A Portrait of Picasso’s Mistress Could Sell for $45 Million at Sotheby’s Impressionist Sale in London

The portrait of Marie-Thérèse Walter, painted when the artist was still married to his wife Olga, comes to market amid a glut of Picasso offerings.

Pablo Picasso's Buste de femme de profil. Femme écrivant (1932) will headline Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern evening sale in London in June.

Is there such a thing as too much Picasso?

For auction houses, the answer seems to be no. Mere weeks after the marquee Impressionist and Modern sales in New York, which are offering no fewer than 45 works by the Spanish master later this month, another significant Picasso painting will lead Sotheby’s Impressionist sale in London on June 19.

Buste de femme de profil. Femme écrivant (1932), a portrait of Picasso’s muse Marie-Thérèse Walter painted while he was still married to his wife Olga, carries an estimate in the region of $45 million. The 1932 painting comes from one of the most prolific and celebrated chapters in the artist’s long career. Work from that year was recently the subject of a major exhibition at Tate Modern in London.

The painting has appreciated considerably since it was last on the auction block in 1997. At the time, it sold for $3.7 million (not including fees). (That figure is equivalent to $5.74 million in 2018 dollars.) The current seller has owned the work since 2003, according to Sotheby’s.

The painting captures Marie-Thérèse writing a letter, which Sotheby’s speculates could be a reference to the pair’s clandestine romance between 1927 and 1935, during which they often communicated for long stretches only through writing.

The work comes to market amid an uptick in supply for Picasso—as well as an uptick in demand. During the London Impressionist and Modern sales in March, a single art advisor spent more than $135 million on 13 Picassos. This week, Bloomberg reported that $212 million worth of Picassos had already been sold at auction so far in 2018, and predicted this year might eclipse the artist’s annual record of $568 million in total sales, set in 2015.

The portrait “comes to auction having remained unseen in public for more than 20 years, marking the third consecutive season this year where an exceptional Picasso from the 1930s has headlined our flagship evening sale,” says Helena Newman, the chairman of Sotheby’s Europe, in a statement. Asked about the influx of Picasso on the market today, she added: “We are currently seeing very strong demand for Picasso as collectors across the world seek to acquire masterpieces by the most globally recognized artist of our time.”

The work goes on view in New York today through May 16 before traveling to Hong Kong (May 25–31) and arriving in London (June 14–19).

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