Picasso’s Portrait of Lover Stars in $190 Million Auction

'Femme assise pres d'une fenetre'
"Femme assise pres d'une fenetre," (1932) by Pablo Picasso. This painting of his mistress Marie-Therese Walter was sold in Sotheby’s auction of Impressionist, modern and Surrealist art in London on Feb. 5 for 28.6 million pounds ($44.8 million), the top price of the evening. Source: Sotheby's via Bloomberg.

Paintings by Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet and Joan Miro starred in a $190 million auction that showed a prevalence of wealthy buyers for Impressionist and modern art, provided works are fresh to the market.

A 1932 Picasso painting of his lover Marie-Therese Walter sold for a top price of 28.6 million pounds ($44.8 million) with fees at Sotheby’s in London last night. Monet’s 1885 snow scene “Le Givre a Giverny” was bought for 8.8 million pounds.

After decades of intense trading, the market for modern and Impressionist art suffers from a shortage of high-quality works that haven’t been seen at auction before, dealers said. Unusually, two-thirds of the 61 lots at this auction were new to the saleroom, triggering more intense levels of demand.

“There were more fresh works than I’ve seen at an Impressionist auction for a while,” said Morgan Long, director of art investments at the London-based Fine Art Fund. “The resale market is really difficult at the moment. There’s very little around that hasn’t been seen before.”

Picasso’s sensuous “Marie-Therese” paintings are among the art market’s most coveted trophies. The Sotheby’s canvas, “Femme assise pres d’une fenetre,” came from a European private collection. It had a formal valuation of 25 million pounds to 35 million pounds, based on hammer prices.

Guaranteed to sell courtesy of a third-party “irrevocable” bid, it was bought by the guarantor, represented by Patti Wong, chairman of Sotheby’s Asia. The work had last been seen on the auction market in 1997, when it sold for $7.5 million.

Asian Bidders

“It was a painting for someone who was new to the market,” said the Paris-based dealer Christian Ogier. “A pleasant, not great Picasso. This was one of those occasions where Asian bidders played a major role in a London auction.”

The Monet, bought by a telephone bidder, set an auction record for a snow scene by the artist. It was one of five Impressionist paintings from the estate of the Earl of Jersey, who had acquired the works more than 60 years previously, advised by his second wife, the Hollywood actress Virginia Cherrill.

Four out of the five Jersey lots sold, raising 14.5 million pounds against a low estimate of 6.9 million pounds. Alfred Sisley’s 1874 “The Thames with Hampton Church” contributed 1.9 million pounds, double the low valuation.

Monet’s water-lily painting “Nympheas avec reflets de hautes herbes,” dating from 1914-17, had been originally estimated at 12 million pounds to 18 million pounds. Stamped with the artist’s name rather than signed, it was sold to a single telephone bid of 9 million pounds. This indicated that the seller’s minimum reserve price was lowered before the sale.

Wallach Miro

Miro’s 1945 canvas “Femme revant de l’evasion,” related to the Spanish Surrealist artist’s “Constellation” series of a few years earlier, was entered from the U.S.-based collection of Miriam and Ira D. Wallach.

Estimated at 8 million pounds to 12 million pounds, the Miro also carried a third-party guarantee and was bought for 8.4 million pounds in the room by one of the Nahmad family of dealers.

Surrealism, a movement that has been known to generate rarities with “crossover” appeal to buyers of contemporary art, has been one of Impressionist and modern art's few growth areas.

Sotheby's concluded the auction with a separately catalogued section of 21 Surrealist works, its first such offering since February 2002. In recent years, the art movement has been the specialty of Christie’s International in London.

Surrealist Collector

Here the 1936 Miro painting “Le fermier et son epouse” sold for 5.9 million pounds, against an upper estimate of 7.5 million pounds. It had been entered by a U.S.-based collector who'd paid $10.4 million for the work at auction in November 2007 at the height of the last art boom.

The Surrealist section raised 16.7 million pounds, with all but three of the works selling.

The evening’s bidding earlier included 14 million pounds for three drawings by Egon Schiele. These were put on sale by the Leopold Museum in Vienna to settle the restitution claim over its 1914 Schiele painting “Houses by the Sea.”

A 1914-15 pencil, gouache and watercolor study of Schiele and his lover Walburga (Wally) Neuzil in an embrace was the most highly valued, estimated at 6.5 million pounds to 8.5 million pounds. This was bought by Sotheby's Wong for a client at 7.9 million pounds.

Self Portrait

A 1914 self-portrait sold to a telephone bidder for 5.1 million pounds against a low estimate of 1.8 million pounds.

An erotic 1918 line drawing of a girl lying on her back sold within estimate for a further 1 million pounds.

The other main surprise of the evening came with the 7.8 million pounds given by another telephone bidder for an Edgar Degas pastel of a nude woman drying herself after a bath. It had been valued at 2.5 million pounds to 3.5 million pounds.

“The Degas was a great thing, as was one of the Schieles,” said the London-based dealer Richard Nagy, who underbid the 7.9 million-pound Leopold drawing. “It was business as usual tonight. Good things that are fresh to the market sell well.”

Sotheby’s total of 121.1 million pounds with fees was the company’s second highest for an Impressionist sale in London. It beat a low estimate of 103.1 million pounds, with 85.2 percent of the lots successful. The equivalent sale last February raised 78.8 million pounds.

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

Muse highlights include Warwick Thompson on London theater and Ryan Sutton on food.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE