Pablo Picasso’s Femme au beret et a la robe quadrillee made £49.8m ($68.4m) in a major auction of impressionist and modern art in London last night (February 28).
The canvas was among the most important Picassos remaining on the market. It dates to 1937, one of Picasso’s most fertile years.
The model is Marie Therese Walter, Picasso’s mistress and muse from 1927 until around the time he painted this work. Picasso was already seeing the photographer Dora Maar, but would ditch Walter completely later that year.
There’s an interesting tension in the work. Picasso usually depicted Walter as light and radiant, but here she appears sad and deflated – reflecting the way she must have felt in her day to day life.
The previous year Picasso had encouraged Walter and Maar to physically fight for his affections one afternoon in his studio, an event he later described as “one of my choicest memories”.
That he had the sensitivity to capture Walter’s latent emotions at the same time as being capable of such cruelty gives an indication of Picasso’s huge complexity.
As Sotheby’s London’s head of impressionist and modern art evening sales, Thomas Bompard, explains: “Of all of the artist’s styles and decades, this is the one that most epitomises the legacy of Picasso as a portraitist of women – with this particular painting encompassing all of the key elements for which he is recognised and celebrated.
“It undoubtedly represents what is most desirable for a connoisseur and collector of modern art.”
The record for a Picasso is $179.3m, set for Les Femmes d’Alger Version O in 2015.