Picasso’s Nude Lovers May Fetch Record $25 Million at Sotheby’s

"L'Aubade" (1967) by Pablo Picasso is coming up for sale at Sotheby's in New York on Nov. 2. It is expected to bring $18 million to $25 million, possibly setting a new auction record for the artist, over the $18 million set last year at Christie's. Source: Sotheby's via Bloomberg

Pablo Picasso’s 1967 painting “L’Aubade” could fetch as much as $25 million at Sotheby’s in New York next month.

That would set an auction record for the artist’s late phase and mark a substantial rise from the work’s previous auction price of less than $100,000.

The mainly black-and-white painting depicts a gaunt naked man playing a flute for a nude woman reclining nearby and looking directly at the viewer. The figures are set against a pale-blue background and the man’s toes, ribs and hair are graphically outlined. The almond-eyed female was inspired by Picasso’s second wife, Jacqueline Roque.

The work will be auctioned Nov. 2 as part of Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern art sale, which also includes consignments from the Israel Museum, the Menil Collection and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The evening’s star by pre-sale estimate is Gustav Klimt’s “Litzlberg am Attersee,” expected to bring more than $25 million.

The Picasso painting once belonged to Sydney Barlow, a California-based collector who founded the Gibraltar Savings & Loan Association and helped set up the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Sotheby’s said. It last appeared at auction in 1979, fetching 49,000 pounds ($75,401) at Sotheby’s in London.

The spread between that sale and the work’s current estimate range ($18 million to $25 million) illustrates a steep price acceleration of the works Picasso (1881-1973) made during his prolific last decade.

For years dismissed by critics as inferior and garish, they have recently been embraced by the art market. Auction prices increased threefold from 2003 to 2010. A 2009 Gagosian Gallery exhibition stoked the market by bringing together more than 90 works from the period.

Investment Value

For an investment period from 1985 to the present, Picasso’s late works significantly outperformed his other periods as well as the S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average, according to Artnet, an online art-market data provider, which reported its findings at the Artelligence conference in New York last month.

“L’Aubade,” which is more than 4 feet tall and 6 feet wide, could surpass the existing late-Picasso record of $18 million, paid for a gloomy 1964 canvas at Christie’s in New York last year.

“There’s still room for price appreciation, but in a more gradual, incremental manner,” said Todd Levin, director of New York-based Levin Art Group. “At around $30 million, one enters a new plateau where qualitatively better works by Picasso become available compared to works in the sub-$30 million range.”

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