Picasso Portrait That Became Legend of the French Resistance Could Sell for $50 Million

French fighters saved the painting in World War II.

A Christie's employee poses with a painting entitled 'Femme assise, robe bleue' by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso. Photo: CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images.

A remarkable Picasso picture with a striking backstory will hit the auction block at Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art evening sale in May.

The painting, a portrait of the Spanish master’s lover Dora Maar, is inextricably intertwined with European history. Picasso painted it in on his birthday (October 25) in 1939, shortly after the outbreak of World War II.

Soon after its creation, the artwork was expropriated by the Nazis from its original owner, Picasso’s Jewish French art dealer Paul Rosenberg. Toward the end of the war, the artwork was due to be transported to Germany, but was traced, intercepted, and successfully captured by French soldiers, who made it a priority to preserve French culture.

Pablo Picasso Femme assise, robe bleue (1939). Photo: CHRISTIE’S IMAGES LTD. 2017.

In fact, Rosenberg’s son Alexandre—who was Lieutenant in the French Free Forces during the German occupation in France of 1940—led the platoon of nine men that secured the cache of significant artworks to keep them in the country, risking his life to save key cultural artifacts for future generations to enjoy.

In 1966, the painting’s extraordinary story was adapted for the Hollywood movie The Train, starring Burt Lancaster and Jeanne Moreau. It was later owned by the Pittsburgh steel tycoon G. David Thompson before it was acquired by the consignors, a major European collection.

Burt Lancaster and Jeanne Moreau starred in The Train (1965) a movie that traced the saga of the painting.
Photo: Internet Movie Database.

The picture itself reflects Picasso’s relationship with his muse, who he rendered in sweeping, curvaceous forms, painting Maar wearing a blue dress that emphasizes her femininity and sensuality.

“It exhibits all of the most exhilarating qualities that Dora brought out in Picasso’s work: the striking palette, ornate headwear, and remarkable complexity conveyed by Dora’s distorted features,” said Giovanna Bertazzoni, Christie’s deputy chairman of Impressionist and modern art. “The canvas is a powerful example of Picasso’s creative imagination and the passion which Dora inspired in him.”

Despite its lofty presale estimate of $35 million to $50 million, Francis Outred, Christie’s chairman and head of postwar and contemporary art, EMERI is confident of the market’s ability to absorb this work. “We fully expect the romance and power of this painting and its remarkable story to capture the hearts and minds of our global collectors of masterpieces from Old Masters to contemporary, this May,” he said. Meanwhile, Bertazzoni remarked that “demand for Picasso’s portraits of one of his greatest subjects, Dora Maar, is at an all-time high.”


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