Pablo Picasso's Femme au béret et à la robe quadrillée (Marie-Thérèse Walter) will go under the hammer on February 28 as part of Sotheby's Impressionist & Modern Art evening sale in London. The painting is likely to be the evening’s star as it is offered at auction for the very first time. The Spanish artist kept it in his personal collection for nearly four decades. After his death in 1973 the work passed into private hands, where it has remained ever since and is now being sold under a guarantee, carrying a price tag of roughly $50m.It has been out of the public eye for a long time and was only exhibited twice: in 1986 in Basel and in 2013 in Malaga.
Femme au béret et à la robe quadrillée was painted in 1937, the year in which Picasso created Guernica, the great masterpiece of his career. and The Weeping Woman, which now reside in Reina Sofia in Madrid and the Tate Modern in London, respectively. The cubist portrait depicts a woman named Marie-Thérèse Walter, Picasso's French lover, with beret in a plaid dress. Experts believe a dark silhouette looming behind her face signals the transition from one mistress to another. The painting was created at a time when two women played an important role in his life: Marie-Thérèse Walter whom Picasso recognized as her “golden muse” and his new lover, photographer and painter Dora Maar. Indeed, the work appears to have been used as a means for exploring his feelings for the two women according to Sotheby's. Picasso is quoted: "It must be painful for a girl to see in a painting that she is on the way out".
Three other Picasso works will be auctioned, including “El Matador”, an oil on canvas painted in October 1970, valued at between £14 and £18 million (16-20 million euros), Tête de Femme, an oil on canvas from 1963, valued at between $7 million to $9.75 million; and a double-sided gouache and pencil on paper, Deux Femmes Assises (recto), Étude Pour ‘L’offrande‘ (verso), executed in the spring of 1908, estimated at £1 million to £1.5 million ($1.4 million to $2.1 million).
Sotheby’s showed the work first in Hong Kong (30 January-2 February) then Taipei (6-7 February), ahead of the auction in London as Asian demand for the top names of 20th century western art has intensified. It's not a coinsidence that this year, London’s Impressionist and Modern auctions have been moved a month later, in part to avoid clashing with the Chinese New Year.
Helena Newman, Global Co-Head of Sotheby's Impressionist & Modern Art Department & Chairman of Sotheby's Europe, said:"With such a strong appetite for Picasso's work from across the globe, this defining portrait from a pivotal year in the oeuvre of the most globally recognised artist is the perfect piece to headline our first major auction season of 2018. It is all the more remarkable to be able to offer a painting of this calibre that has never been seen on the market before."
Picasso held the world record for the most expensive piece of art sold at auction with his "The Women of Algiers (Version 0)", which sold for about US$179 million at Christie’s New York in 2015. But another masterpiece reached an astronomical price last November. Leonardo da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi" was sold for $450.3 million in New York.