The eight-digit sale price comes a week after Andy Warhol’s 1964 silk-screen portrait of Marilyn Monroe fetched $195 million at Christie’s, setting a record for a work by an American artist sold at auction. Auction house Sotheby’s had predicted the Picasso painting, a surrealistic depiction of his muse Marie-Thérèse Walter, to sell in excess of $60 million. Tuesday’s price falls short of other portraits of Marie-Thérèse, one of which fetched $103.4 million at Christie’s last year.
“Femme nue couchée,” which translates from French to “Nude Reclining Woman,” shows Marie-Thérèse as a many-limbed sea creature with her head tilted back in profile. Her love of swimming and her grace in the water inspired the allusion to the sea, as Picasso himself could not swim, according to Sotheby’s. Marie-Thérèse was 17 years old when she met the 45-year-old Picasso in Paris. They began a secret relationship while he was still married to his first wife, Russian-Ukrainian ballet dancer Olga Khokhlova. Marie-Thérèse became his model for a number of paintings and sculptures and gave birth to his daughter, Maya Widmaier-Picasso.
“Femme nue couchée” was born out of a particularly creative and pivotal year for Picasso. Newly 50, he had already achieved widespread fame by 1932 but ramped up his ambitions to silence critics who questioned “whether he was an artist of the past rather than the future,” according to the Tate Modern museum. Amy Cappellazzo, the former head of Sotheby’s global fine art division, purchased the painting at Sotheby’s Modern Evening Sale in New York. She left the auction house last year.
The seller acquired the work in 2008 from Picasso’s heirs, who had held it for decades, according to Sotheby’s. Industry publication Artnet identified the seller as hedge fund billionaire and New York Mets owner Steve Cohen. A Claude Monet oil painting from 1908 showing a view of Venice, Italy, also sold for $56.6 million on Tuesday.
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