Picasso’s Femme à la Montre Sells for $139.4 Million

Pablo Picasso’s celebrated masterpiece, Femme à la Montre, made its auction debut at Sotheby’s New York, where it fetched a staggering $139.4 million.

This remarkable achievement solidified its status as the second most valuable work ever sold by the iconic artist at auction, placing it among the top ten highest-priced artworks ever auctioned.

Picasso's Femme à la Montre Sells for $139.4 Million

A Glimpse into Picasso’s ‘Year of Wonders’

Executed in 1932, Femme à la montre is a testament to Pablo Picasso’s profound affection for his ‘golden muse,’ Marie-Thérèse Walter. This painting holds a special place in the artist’s prolific career, as 1932 is often regarded as his ‘year of wonders,’ commemorated with an entire museum exhibition dedicated to his creations from that remarkable period.

The evening sale of the Emily Fisher Landau Collection, featuring Femme à la montre as lot 10, has already seen the establishment of several new benchmarks. Artists such as Agnes Martin and Mark Tansey have set records, and art enthusiasts can eagerly anticipate more outstanding works by 20th-century giants like Georgia O’Keeffe, Ed Ruscha, and Andy Warhol yet to be offered.

The auction of the Emily Fisher Landau Collection marks the commencement of Sotheby’s Marquee New York Sales Week. This week-long extravaganza includes the Modern Evening Auction on Monday, November 13, The Now Evening Auction on Wednesday, November 15, and the Contemporary Evening Auction, also on November 15. Additionally, RM Sotheby’s will present a single-lot auction for a 1962 Ferrari GTO on November 13, with an estimated value exceeding $60 million, potentially making it the most valuable Ferrari ever sold at auction.

A Deeper Dive into Femme à la montre

Femme à la montre, a masterpiece born in August 1932, followed Picasso’s first large-scale retrospective at the Galeries Georges Petit in Paris. This period allowed Picasso to fully express his affection for Marie-Thérèse, unburdened by the pressures of the exhibition and the secrecy surrounding their clandestine relationship.

Picasso's Femme à la Montre Sells for $139.4 Million

Their legendary encounter took place outside the Galeries Lafayette in Paris in 1927, marking the beginning of a passionate love affair kept discreet for years due to Picasso’s marriage to Russian-Ukrainian dancer Olga Khokhlova.

Among Picasso’s extensive body of work, only three major pieces, including Femme à la montre, feature a watch. Watches held a significant place in Picasso’s heart, as he owned three exceptional timepieces.

Depicting Marie-Thérèse wearing one of these cherished watches was a profound gesture, symbolizing the highest honour Picasso could bestow upon her. It also nodded to the age-old Vanitas painting tradition, alluding to the fleeting nature of love and life.

A Keystones of Emily Fisher Landau’s Collection

In 1968, Mrs. Fisher Landau made a bold move as a new collector by acquiring Femme à la montre, recognizing its exceptional value. This painting became the cornerstone of her collection for over five decades, gracing the mantle in her New York home.

Picasso's Femme à la Montre Sells for $139.4 Million

While Femme à la montre achieved an impressive $139.4 million, it’s worth noting the highest prices ever achieved for Picasso’s works at auction:

  1. $179.4 million – Les femmes d’Alger, May 2015
  2. $115 million – Fillette à la corbeille fleurie, May 2018
  3. $106.5 million – Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, May 2010
  4. $104.2 million – Garçon à la pipe, May 2004
  5. $103.4 million – Femme assise près d’une fenêtre, May 2021

In 2023, Sotheby’s has not only achieved remarkable prices for Femme à la montre but also secured the highest price at auction in key selling centres worldwide:

  1. London: $108.4 million – Gustave Klimt, Dame mit Fächer (Lady with a Fan), June 2023
  2. Hong Kong: $34.8 million – Amadeo Modigliani, Paulette Jourdain, October 2023
  3. New York: $139.4 million – Pablo Picasso, Femme à la Montre, November 2023
Picasso's Femme à la Montre Sells for $139.4 Million

A Painting That Defines Picasso’s Legacy

In the words of Brooke Lampley, Sotheby’s Global Chairman and Head of Global Fine Art, “One of Emily Fisher Landau’s first major purchases, Femme à la Montre is Pablo Picasso’s Mona Lisa. Painted in 1932, when the artist was preparing for his major retrospective, there’s a feeling that he is literally painting his legacy, looking back at the past and reflecting on his own place in art history. The works from this moment are magnum opi meant to represent him at his apogee, which is just what this painting does.”

Pablo Picasso’s Femme à la Montre has not only achieved remarkable financial success but has also cemented its place as a masterpiece that embodies the essence of an iconic artist’s career. Its journey from creation to auction success is a testament to the enduring power of art to captivate hearts and minds across generations.

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