Pablo Picasso’s work is a staple of the high-value art market. So it isn’t a wonder that there are a number of works coming to the auction block in the next three weeks with substantial seven-figure estimates. Nonetheless, the market mood both at the Frieze sales and in recent art fairs has been toward spending aggressively in the six-figure range to discover talent rather than to spend lavishly to own perhaps the greatest name in Modern art.
This weekend, Sotheby’s is holding an onsite auction in Las Vegas with property from MGM Resorts the corporate acquirer of Steve Wynn’s Mirage casinos which included the Bellagio and its Picasso restaurant. Some of the works previously on view at the Picasso have come to market. But now we’re going to have a potential test of the appetite for big-ticket PIcasso works.
A few weeks after this sale, Christie’s will offer three paintings estimated above $15 million and Sotheby’s will have a sculpture estimated at $15 million. All together there are 10 lots with an aggregate low estimate of at least $150 million. Those are big ticket items for a big ticket season.
The highest estimate among the MGM paintings is for the small Marie-Thérèse Walter portrait Femme au béret rouge-orange painted in 1938. The $20 million low estimate will seem like quite a bargain when referenced against the stronger-but-only-slightly-
The other $20 million painting is a late work from 1969 that was exhibited in the famous 1970 Avignon show at the Palais des Papes that caused so much consternation. It would be 35 years before collectors began to value these late works on a par with Picasso’s many earlier styles. Buyers of contemporary art interested in Expressionist works began to view the late Picasso works as both in tune with the other artists they collected and remarkably cheap.
That price differential no longer applies when we’re looking at $20 million estimates. The work’s stature at more than six feet tall and the bright colors play into the work’s potential wall power. If there are buyers in the market looking for a lower priced picture, they might focus on the companion painting of a Buste de homme also from 1969 and also shown in the Palais des Papes. It’s $10 million low estimate looks like a bargain next to the $22 million paid during the last public auction in 2015 of a work that could be considered comparable (though is slightly larger) or the $17.8 million paid this past April in Hong Kong for a Buste de Matador from the Avignon show.
There are two more curious works in the sale which seemingly aggressive estimates. Both are still lives from the period when Picasso was living under German occupation in Paris. In June, a not dissimilar work from later in the 1940s sold in London for $4.9 million. The MGM works are larger, which is where the $6 million low estimate for Nature more aux fliers et au compotier comes from.
The smaller but more graphically potent and colorful Nature morte aux panders des fruits et aux fleurs gets a much higher estimate of $10 million. Sotheby’s specialists may be thinking of this Le coq saigné from 1947 which made nearly $7.2 million at Christie’s in London early in 2018.
How these works perform this weekend in Las Vegas may or may not have much effect on the remaining works, like Christie’s Mousquetaire a la pipe II with a $30 million whisper number or the painting Picasso made in response to Matisse that carries a $20 million estimate. But we’ll all be watching for clues.