Sotheby's chairman and auctioneer Oliver Barker during the auction of Picasso: Masterworks from the MGM Resorts Fine Art Collection on October 23, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Denise Truscello/Getty Images for Sotheby's)

If the pandemic has proven anything about the art market it’s that auction houses will adapt—with remarkable speed—to any condition in order to sell their most expensive trophies to satisfy a seemingly bottomless appetite for buying blue-chip art.

This weekend showed this once again as Sotheby’s staged a pop-up salesroom in Las Vegas on Saturday night to sell former casino boss Steve Wynn’s collection of Picassos, which famously once hung in the Bellagio restaurant.

MGM Resorts, where the sale was held, acquired the Picassos as part of its $4.4.billion acquisition of Wynn’s Mirage casino in 2000. Wynn stepped down in 2018 amid allegations of sexual harassment, which he has denied.

The sale was short but action packed with all 11 Picasso lots easily finding buyers—making it a “white glove” sale in auction parlance. It pulled in $109 million, exceeding the $100 million pre-sale estimate. All of the lots were guaranteed and three were backed by third parties.

Sotheby’s chairman Gregoire Billault during the auction of Picasso: Masterworks from the MGM Resorts Fine Art Collection on October 23 in Las Vegas. Photo by Denise Truscello/Getty Images for Sotheby’s.

Sotheby’s had several of its top specialists in person for the event, including London-based auctioneer Oliver Barker, who headed up the sale. He opened the proceedings by noting that Sotheby’s had “taken its storied New York saleroom on the road.”

The top lot by far was Femme au béret rouge-orange, a bright 1938 portrait of the artist’s muse Marie-Thérèse Walter, which sold for $40.5 million following a lengthy bidding contest. It was followed by Homme et enfant (1969), which sold for $24.4 million (in the middle of the $20 million to $30 million estimate). Meanwhile, one of two still lifes on offer, Nature morte au panier de fruits et aux fleurs (1942) sold for $16.6 million.

La Fenêtre de l’atelier La Californie (1956), a work painted on ceramic tile that portrays a scene from Picasso’s studio at his home in Cannes overlooking the sea, was the opening lot and drew 20 bids. The final price was $214,200, or nearly quadruple its low estimate. Barker opened several of the earlier lots in the sale, including this one, at surprisingly low starting prices of $10,000, but intense bidding quickly drove up the results.

Pablo Picasso, Buste d homme (1969). Image courtesy Sotheby’s.

Attracting 18 bids, Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (1962) achieved $2.1 million, more than four times its $500,000 high estimate. According to Sotheby’s it is the only ceramic that depicts this subject matter, molded from the original printing plate for the artist’s series of prints executed in 1962 of Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe, d’après Manet

A primitive-looking two-sided terracotta sculpture, Tête d’homme barbu (1956), also drew intense competition, selling for $239,400 compared with a high estimate of $70,000. The work has an extensive track record at auction, having come on the block at least five times since 1980, at both Christie’s and Sotheby’s in New York and London. In 1994, it sold at Sotheby’s London for $28,000 (£17,250), while in 1986 it sold for just $11,000.

Installation view of “Picasso: Masterworks” at MGM in Las Vegas. Image courtesy Sotheby’s.

Sotheby’s also touted the fact that the date of the sale, October 23, coincided with what would have been the artist’s 140th birthday, prompting blogger Greg Allen to tweet: “hbd picasso your absolute worst works still sell for $240,000.”

The sale comes as MGM Resorts has been reshaping its public art portfolio, deepening its focus on diversity and inclusion, Sotheby’s said in a statement. The auction house said the sale marked the largest fine art sale to ever take place in Las Vegas, as well as the first time that Sotheby’s has ever staged an evening sale in North America outside its New York saleroom.

Pablo Picasso, Tête d’homme barbu (back) (1956). Image courtesy Sotheby’s.

The results underscore “the singular nature of this event, and the importance of creating bespoke experiences that cater to furthering our commitment to existing clients, as well as opening doors for a whole new audience to engage with Sotheby’s,” said Brooke Lampley, the auction house’s chairman and head of sales for global fine art, after the sale.

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