Thirteen Picassos Sold in Two Days. One Firm Bought Them AllBy
Gurr Johns advisory buys $155 million worth of Picasso works
Sotheby’s shares climb most in more than a year on earnings
An international art advisory firm went on a Picasso shopping spree, dropping $155 million on at least 13 works in two days.
Gurr Johns, which buys and sells on behalf of clients, won four pieces by the Spanish artist, totaling 73.8 million pounds ($102.4 million) at Sotheby’s on Wednesday, according to the auction house. One day earlier, the company won at least nine other Picasso works at Christie’s, according to Baer Faxt, an art industry newsletter, to the tune of 38.9 million pounds.
The leading work of the week was a 1937 portrait of Picasso’s young muse and lover Marie-Therese Walter that fetched 49.8 million pounds, surpassing the presale estimate, at Sotheby’s. The least expensive was “Citron et verre," a 1922 still life starring a lemon, that sold for 392,750 pounds at Christie’s.
“I am having a hard time imagining who would want to buy so many very different quality Picassos in one spurt,” David Nash, an art dealer specializing in Impressionist and modern art, said in an email. “The real question is who was Gurr Johns buying for? And for what purpose?"
With offices from London to Los Angeles, Gurr Johns offers art valuations and appraisals, private sales and financing. It’s unclear whether the company was buying for a single client or several -- and if it purchased any other Picassos at London auctions this week.
Gurr Johns Executive Chairman Harry Smith declined to comment on the purchases and would only address Picasso demand in general terms.
“He has the reputation, the recognition and a legacy which appeals to both new and established collectors from all over the world,” Smith said in an emailed statement. “He was also a productive artist, so there’s a constant and regular supply of his paintings at auction, which helps to keep momentum and confidence in his market.”
The 13 Picassos contributed significantly to the Impressionist and modern art auctions in London, which are being closely watched as the year’s first test for the high-end global art market.
They accounted for 62 percent of Sotheby’s evening sale that reaped 118.9 million pounds, surpassing the high presale estimate. (Final prices include the auction commission; estimates don’t.) At Christie’s, they represented 34 percent of the 114.1-million-pound tally in the Impressionist and modern art sale. The top lots at both houses were the Picasso paintings bought by Gurr Johns.
Shares of Sotheby’s surged the most in more than a year Thursday, advancing 13 percent to $52.29 at 10:48 a.m. in New York, after the company posted a fourth-quarter profit that beat Wall Street estimates.
Picasso was dethroned as the most expensive artist at auction (with a $179.4 million record) in November by Leonardo Da Vinci, whose painting sold for $450 million at Christie’s.
The seller of the jewel-toned Marie-Therese portrait at Sotheby’s was a member of the Picasso family, according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because the information is private.
Estimated at about 37 million pounds, “Femme au beret et a la robe quadrillee (Marie-Therese Walter)” drew bids from several Sotheby’s staffers. The underbidder was an Asian client of Patti Wong, Sotheby’s chairman of Asia, the company confirmed.
“It’s a good kickoff for what’s undoubtedly will be a very good season,” said Helena Newman, chairman of Sotheby’s in Europe, noting continued demand for top quality art. “It’s a global market.”