Rare Picasso Portrait of Marie-Thérèse Heads Sotheby’s’ ‘Unseen Works of the European Avant-Garde’ Auction



If you’ve read Patrick O’Brian’s Picasso: A Biography, or at least seen the 1996 Merchant-Ivory film Surviving Picasso, you understand that Pablo wasn’t really the easiest person to live with—he could be awful, actually. But those women who endured him were obviously immortalized in the most spectacular of ways.

Ballet dancer Olga Khokhlova was certainly so, only to discover in 1935, after 17 years of marriage, that the Cubist master had been carrying on an eight year affair with model Marie-Thérèse Walter. Olga left him straight away, though they remained legally married until her death in 1955.

Walter was Picasso’s muse during one of his most exhilarating periods—and Sotheby’s has a particularly ethereal portrait of her from that time, Femme endormie (which translates to “Woman asleep”), up for auction. It will be part of a larger Evening Sale collection on offer July 28 in London, under the edifying banner Unseen Works of the European Avant-Garde.


Wassily Kandinsky, Ohne Titel (Komposition)


Surely, the first few decades of the 20th Century rank with the Renaissance in terms of transformational art world significance. And the auction will boast many of its marquee names, including Fernand Léger, Alberto Giacometti, Wassily Kandinsky, Lyonel Feininger, Marc Chagall, Henry Moore and Jean Arp. It’s practically a modern art museum starter kit.

Taken together, one can discern certain aesthetic narratives, which help to elucidate the exceedingly revolutionary nature of that time. From an unnamed private collection, Worldwide Head of Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Department Helena Newman reveals that it was the product of a genuinely passionate art lover, rather than a mercenary trader, with an emphasis on rarity.

“Unified by the breadth and depth of art from across Europe,” she explains, “it offers seldom seen works from the pinnacle of the Avant-Garde, from the figurative to the abstract. At its core is the exceptionally beautiful 1931 portrait of Picasso’s lover Marie-Thérèse, an intimate glimpse into their early days together when the love between the artist and his most important muse was still a secret from the world.”

Unseen Works of the European Avant-Garde will be up for auction July 28 at Sotheby’s London.


From Top: Marc Chagall, La branche de gui or Le rêve; Lyonel Feininger, Zottelstedt II

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