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Picasso painting sells for $139 mn at Sotheby’s New York auction

‘Femme à la montre’ is Picasso's passionate portrayal of his lover and muse, Marie-Thérèse Walter.

Picasso painting sells for $139 mn at Sotheby’s New York auction
[Source photo: Sothebys]

Pablo Picasso’s masterpiece ‘Femme à la montre’ was sold during an auction at Sotheby’s New York for $139 million on Wednesday. Translated to ‘Woman with a Watch’, the painting is Picasso’s passionate portrayal of his lover and muse, Marie-Thérèse Walter. 

Apart from being the highest-priced artwork sold at an auction this year, the painting also set the second-highest auction record for a Picasso, falling behind “Les femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’).” which was sold by Christie’s in New York at $171.8 million in 2015.

As the autumn art auction scene in New York City kicked off, the sale of this highly sought-after Picasso work was a highlight of the season. 

Created in 1932 during the peak of their relationship, ‘Femme à la montre’ is a particularly intricate and resolved depiction of this emotionally charged period. The painting stands out as one of the most intense expressions of the image of someone who was a very important part of the Spanish painter’s life.

When the 17-year-old Marie-Thérèse met the 45-year-old Picasso in 1927, the latter was already married to the Russian ballerina Olga Khokhlova, and thus began their clandestine affair, which shaped a decade of the artist’s oeuvre. 

Marie-Thérèse’s identity remains hidden in Picasso’s works, concealed within his Surrealist interpretations that challenged structure, subtly alluded to in shadowy profiles, or tantalizingly hinted at in still lifes that discreetly bear the initials ‘MT.’

After remaining in Picasso’s possession for years, the painting was finally sold in 1966 to Ernst Beyeler. 

In a letter to philanthropist Emily Fisher Landau in 2005, Beyeler talks about how he was allowed to purchase this painting directly from Picasso’s treasured paintings in his studio in Mougins. To Beyeler, that was an “unparalleled gesture of friendship” and a very rare privilege that few would have experienced. 

“Feeling of how nervous I was, he charmingly told me to go ahead in choosing, he, however, would put things back he did not want to sell,” wrote Beyeler in his letter to Landau. 

Landau then retained ownership of ‘Femme à la montre’ after acquiring the piece from the Pace Gallery in New York in 1968 and the work was auctioned as part of her collection which brought in over $406.4m – the most valuable auction ever devoted to a female collector.

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