Some might consider blockbuster auctions of Impressionist and modern art a thing of the past, but the most famous names of the European avant-garde can still attract imposing prices — if not new collectors.
On Tuesday night at Sotheby’s in Manhattan, a Pablo Picasso painting of his young lover and muse Marie-Thérèse Walter, from the fabled year 1932, sold for $67.5 million with fees to Amy Cappellazzo, co-founder of Art Intelligence Global, an advisory firm based in New York and Hong Kong. She was the only bidder.
Estimated to raise at least $60 million, it topped a 58-lot auction in Sotheby’s updated category of modern art, which has dropped less fashionable Impressionist pictures. The Picasso had been entered by the New York mega-collector Steven A. Cohen, according to Artnet News, and had never appeared at auction before.
“It’s voluptuous, sexy and surreal,” said Guy Jennings, a senior director at the Fine Art Group, a New York-based advisory company.
“Femme nue couchée” shows Marie-Thérèse sleeping by the sea, her naked body seemingly transformed into a fantastical Surrealist sculpture. It was one of 30 large-scale canvases inspired by Picasso’s love affair with Marie-Thérèse, whom he met by chance outside a Metro station in 1927 when she was 17. He was 45.
Curators and collectors both regard 1932 as an Annus mirabilis in Picasso’s development as an artist. “Femme nue couchée” was included in the recent high-profile exhibitions at the Musée Picasso in Paris and Tate Modern in London devoted to output of that single year. The last Picasso to reach a seven-figure price at auction was another 1932 canvas, “Femme assise près d’une fenêtre (Marie-Thérèse),” which sold for $103.4 million last May.
Claude Monet’s “Le Grand Canal et Santa Maria della Salute,” executed in 1908 and estimated in the region of $50 million, sold for $56.6 million with fees. This work drew just two bids.
The total for the night was $408.5 million.
One of three female artists in the Modern Evening sale, the British-Mexican painter Leonora Carrington, might have enjoyed her “Garden of Paracelsus” selling for $3.3 million, nearly twice its high estimate of $1.8 million.
It was one of the few lots to inspire determined competition.