Picasso Mistress, German Art Add $99 Million to London Sales

"Jeane fille endormie" by Pablo Picasso, depicting the artist's mistress, Marie-Therese Walter, was included in Christie's International's June 21 auction of Impressionist and Modern Art in London. It sold for 13.5 million pounds ($21.9 million). Source: Christie's via Bloomberg

A Pablo Picasso painting of his mistress Marie-Therese Walter and a collection of German art from the 1960s and 1970s may add as much as 60 million pounds ($99 million) to London’s June art auctions.

Picasso’s canvas “Jeune fille endormie,” showing Marie-Therese snoozing on her folded arms, is estimated to fetch 9 million pounds to 12 million pounds at Christie’s International. The group of 59 German contemporary works has an upper estimate of 47.5 million pounds at Sotheby’s.

Owners of valuable 20th-century trophies have become more confident about selling after record prices last year. Picasso’s 1932 Marie-Therese painting “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust” fetched $106.5 million -- the most for any artwork at auction -- at Christie’s, New York, in May 2010. A simpler portrait of her may fetch as much as $35 million at Sotheby’s New York in May.

“Prices have climbed back dramatically,” David Leiber, director of the New York-based gallery Sperone Westwater, said in an interview. “For the classic works, collectors like the spectacle of buying at auction.”

Christie’s 1935 Picasso is being sold by an anonymous owner who is donating proceeds to the University of Sydney to fund medical research. The canvas included in Christie’s June 21 auction of Impressionist and modern art hasn’t been seen in public for 70 years, the London-based company said in an e-mail today.

Paintings inspired by Picasso’s love affair with Marie-Therese -- a favorite with Russian collectors -- have set eight of the 20 highest auction prices for the world’s biggest-selling artist.

Blonde Lover

The 45-year-old Picasso met his blonde mistress by chance in 1927 when she was leaving the Paris subway. Marie-Therese was 17 at the time, and she remained the lover of the artist, who was married to Olga Khokhlova, from 1927 to about 1935.

“I bowed my head in front of him,” she recalled more than 40 years later, according to the Atlantic Monthly in June 1988. The phrase perfectly describes the pose of Christie’s painting, whose sale will follow the exhibition “Picasso and Marie-Therese: L’Amour Fou,” showing at Gagosian Gallery, New York.

Early paintings by Georg Baselitz, Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke from the 1960s will lure bidders at Sotheby’s separately cataloged sale of works belonging to Christian Graf Duerckheim-Ketelhodt, chairman of the Cologne-based pharmaceutical company Axiogenesis AG. Thirty-five lots will be included in U.S.-based company’s evening auction of contemporary art on June 29.

Lenz Sale

Sellers have been encouraged by the 23.2 million pounds raised by Sotheby’s 47-lot sale of conceptual “Zero” art from the German collectors Gerhard and Anna Lenz in February 2010. Only one lot failed and the total doubled the presale low estimate of 11.2 million pounds.

“The recent success of private collections has helped,” Cheyenne Westphal, Sotheby’s European head of contemporary art, said. “Though our seller is still an avid buyer in other areas, he finished this particular collection in 1985.”

Like Mr. and Mrs. Lenz, Duerckheim has owned his paintings for decades, said Sotheby’s. Baselitz’s 1962 to 1963 figure painting, “Die Grosse Nacht im Eimer” (The Big Night Down the Drain), inspired by a drunken reading by the Irish writer Brendan Behan, is estimated at as much as 3 million pounds.

The work was described by the artist as “my first painting,” said Sotheby’s. It is a sister painting of a work confiscated by the East German government when it was first exhibited.

Polke Dots

Polke’s enigmatic 1960s landscape “Dschungel” is the largest of the artist’s “Rasterbilder” (dot paintings) to appear at auction. Measuring 8 feet (2.4 meters) wide, it is the most highly valued work and may fetch 4 million pounds.

Richter’s 1965 photo-inspired painting “Telefonierender,” showing a man talking on a telephone, may sell for as much as 3 million pounds, while the artist’s 1974 color chart “1024 Farben” is tagged at 1 million pounds to 1.5 million pounds.

The collection also includes paintings by Blinky Palermo, A.R. Penck, Konrad Lueg and Eugen Schoenebeck, priced from 150,000 pounds to 700,000 pounds.

“Sotheby’s will package the sale very cleverly,” said Leiber. “I think we’ll see prices for Polke and Baselitz begin catch up with Richter at this auction.”

(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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