Picasso's Young Lover Canvas Fetches $27.6 Million at Sotheby's

  • Impressionist and modern art auction tallies $114.3 million
  • Results represent a 54% drop from similar event one year ago

A portrait of Pablo Picasso’s young lover fetched 18.9 million pounds ($27.6 million) at Sotheby’s in London on Wednesday, 31 percent less than what it went for a little over two years ago.

Picasso’s 1935 painting titled “Tete de Femme," which led Sotheby’s evening auction of Impressionist and modern art, last changed hands in November 2013 for $39.9 million. For the consignor the loss is even steeper, as about $3 million from the latest sale will go the auction house as commission.

Tete de Femme by Picasso
Tete de Femme by Picasso
Source: Sotheby’s

After several years of growth, the art market’s outlook is clouding over as financial markets across the world decline, according to a recent survey by ArtTactic. Sotheby’s sale tallied 78.9 million pounds, short of the low estimate of 85.6 million pounds, and 54 percent below what the auction house sold at the equivalent event a year ago.

“You have to factor in the fact that it was coming back to the market relatively soon,” Helena Newman, Sotheby’s worldwide co-head of Impressionist and modern art, said of the Picasso. “We are dealing with the market where every buyer counts.”

Four bidders pursued the painting on Wednesday. In 2013, five bidders competed, Newman said.

Grand Canal

La Lecon De Piano by Henri Matisse
La Lecon De Piano by Henri Matisse
Source: Sotheby’s

Claude Monet’s painting of the Palazzo Ducale on the Grand Canal in Venice sold for 11.6 million pounds, below the low estimate. Henri Matisse’s canvas depicting a piano lesson sold for 10.8 million pounds, also falling short of its bottom target.

A separate Surrealist art sale tallied 14.9 million pounds, bringing the total for the two Wednesday auctions to 93.7 million pounds. Prices include the commissions charged by the auction house; the estimates don’t.

Leading the Surrealist sale was a painting by Paul Delvaux, “Le Miroir," depicting a young woman in a purple gown looking at a nude reflection of herself. The 1936 canvas went for 7.3 million pounds, within the estimated range, setting an auction record for the Belgian artist. The painting also set an artist auction record when it was last sold -- in 1999, for 3.2 million pounds.

Le Miroir by Paul Delvaux
Le Miroir by Paul Delvaux
Source: Sotheby’s

Sculpture fared well during the evening, with nine of the 10 offered pieces selling for a combined 17.1 million pounds, Sotheby’s said. The group was led by Auguste Rodin’s bronze “Iris,” which fetched 11.6 million pounds, surpassing the high estimate.

A casualty was Picasso’s 16-inch-tall bronze, “Le Fou,” conceived in 1905 and cast before 1939, according to Sotheby’s catalog. The work, depicting a young man in a pointed jester hat, was estimated at 1.5 million pounds to 2.5 million pounds. Another version of the work is on view at the “Picasso Sculpture” exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.

Christie’s sold 66.4 million of Impressionist and modern art sale on Tuesday, 17 percent below the company’s equivalent event a year ago. Coupled with its Surrealist auction, the company tallied 95.9 million pounds.

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