Second Highest Price Ever Achieved For A Picasso At Auction

Thursday, November 9, 2023
Second Highest Price Ever Achieved For A Picasso At Auction

Appearing at auction for the very first time, Pablo Picasso’s magnificent Femme à la montre, the prized jewel of the Emily Fisher Landau Collection, sold for $139.4m at Sotheby’s New York just now, becoming the second most valuable work by the artist ever sold at auction and taking its place among the top ten works ever sold at auction.

Depicting the artist’s love and ‘golden muse’ Marie-Thérèse Walter, the painting was executed in 1932, widely considered the artist’s ‘year of wonders’ – a year so important an entire museum exhibition has been dedicated to it. Tonight, this exceptional work took its place as the most valuable ever sold at auction from that standout year, eclipsing by a wide margin the previous high for a work from this year ($106.5 million achieved for Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, in 2010). 

Femme à la montre was painted by Picasso in August 1932, soon after the close of his first, large-scale retrospective at the Galeries Georges Petit in Paris. Finally free from the stresses of the exhibition and the strain of secrecy around his clandestine affair with Marie-Thérèse – the artist was able to give full painterly voice to his love for her. Picasso’s first encounter with his young muse, and their subsequent love affair, is legendary. They first met outside the Galeries Lafayette in Paris one day in 1927,a brief exchange marking the start of a passionate relationship that was kept a well-guarded secret for years, both on account of the fact that Picasso was then still married to Russian-Ukrainian dancer Olga Khokhlova. 

Among the many paintings Picasso created in his long and varied career, only three major works, including this, are known to feature a watch, yet watches were objects of immense significance to him, in various ways. Picasso had a deep passion for exceptional timepieces, and in fact owned three of the greatest watches in existence. To depict his young lover wearing one of his treasured watches was therefore to bestow on her the greatest of honors – a gesture not lost on Marie-Thérèse, who had ‘an almost superstitious reverence’ for the watch. At the same time, the presence of the watch nods to the centuries-old tradition of Vanitas painting, with its references to the transience of both love and life.

Mrs. Fisher Landau bought this painting in 1968, right at the start of her collecting journey. This major acquisition was a bold move for a new collector, but she understood full well that it was not the sort of work she should pass up: she bought it on the spot, and it remained the keystone of her collection for more than five decades, hanging above the mantle in her New York home.

Stephanie Cime

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Anna Melnykova, "Palace of Labor (palats praci), architector I. Pretro, 1916", shot with analog Canon camera, 35 mm Fuji film in March 2022.

Anna Melnykova, "Palace of Labor (palats praci), architector I. Pretro, 1916", shot with analog Canon camera, 35 mm Fuji film in March 2022.


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