Julian Dawes, Head of Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale in New York agreed to answer a few questions about these late Picasso works in Sotheby’s Evening sale next month:
You have two late Picasso works in the sale, neither of which have ever been at auction before. One, a painting of Jacqueline Roque from 1962, is a portrait of a woman and her dog. The other, a Mousquetaire a la pipe, is from 1968. There has been a sea change in the say the market sees the late works of Picasso over the last, say, 15 years. Can you give us a quick explanation of what brought about that change? Was it simply the scarcity of work or, as some say, the way that late Picasso fits more with Contemporary art? Or something else?
For late works by Picasso, there have been a few critical moments in the market that set the tone within the past decade.
The first was the 2009 Gagosian show of Picasso musketeers, Picasso: Mosqueteros. This was key in showcasing the scale and wall power of Picasso’s late works, and developing a taste for them among high-end contemporary art collectors. The parallels to de Kooning and Basquiat, among others, became clear.
Then, there were two important sales about 6-8 years ago. The first was L’Aubade from 1967, which achieved $23 million in our Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale in November 2011. This was the first time in history that a canvas from post 1960 broke the $20-million mark publicly. It had been a significant barrier, despite some exceptional, quality examples coming to auction between 2005 and 2010.
The next is Mousquetaire à la pipe from 1969, which sold for $30.9 million in our November 2013 Evening Sale. This was such a dynamic and exciting auction moment, and the painting has maintained the top auction price for any post-1960 work by Picasso ever since. Femme au chienis poised to challenge that record in our Evening Sale on May 14th.
Femme au chien also defies the conventional thinking that late works by Picassos are slapdash – executed quickly and in high volume. Although, these are not inherently negative qualities. They speak to Picasso’s virtuosity, his hunger to explore themes in unmatched depth and masterful ability to conjure arresting imagery without excessive labor, which, essentially became second nature by this point in his life. That said, Picasso took almost a month to create Femme au chien, as evidenced by the nearly 30 consecutive days marked on the reverse. The extensive energy that he applied to this particular work is shown in the layered complexity of the surface. It is a true masterpiece among masterpieces and an outlier within the duration of his conventional working process. It includes everything that collectors look for in a late Picasso: magnificent scale and gestural power, with the careful, thoroughly-worked quality of his earlier periods.
I see in the description that the Mousquetaire was shown in the 1976 Venice Biennale. Can you tell us more about the exhibition it appeared in?
Spain. Artistic Avant-Garde and Social Reality. 1936–1976 was a particularly poignant and controversial exhibition at the Venice Biennale, as it marked the 40th anniversary of the start of the Spanish Civil War. This exhibit was held at the International Pavilion, as the Spanish Pavilion was closed due to disagreements over the dictatorial leadership of Spain at the time. Tomàs Llorens, who served as one of the curators of the show, described the aims of the exhibition as making “clear how Spanish avant-garde art has been modeled, in its internal constitution, often with ambiguous characteristics, on the dialectic process of political struggle and, at a much deeper level, of class struggle in Spanish society.” In effect, the art historical narrative created in this exhibition helped determine later generations’ understanding of Modern Art and Spain’s role within its development.
An array of Picasso’s works, featuring among them a still life and portrait, both from 1944, and two other Mousquetaires from 1967 and 1968, were featured in this display. The imagery of the musketeer not only presents Picasso’s wide-ranging interests in historical literature and artistry—think Alexandre Dumas, and Old Master painters Hals, Rembrandt and Velázquez—but also plays on the politically-minded framework of the exhibition as a whole.
Speaking of exhibitions, the most expensive work from this series to sell at auction was also the work that appeared on the cover of a catalogue for the famous 1970 exhibition of Picasso’s late paintings held at the Palais des Papes in Avignon. Can you tell us a little about that show and why it is so important to these late Picasso paintings?
This exhibition, principally organized by the incomparable Christian Zervos, included over 200 works by Picasso, undertaken by the 88-year-old artist in the remarkably short span of one year. The artist’s enduring will to create was meticulously recorded in this exhibition, presenting to the public an array of works that document the passing of time in visual terms. The reverse of the works often bear the exact date of creation and completion, allowing viewers, even years later, to locate themselves in a specific moment in the artist’s life and oeuvre. For the first time in history, an entire year’s worth of Picasso’s artistic output was presented, highlighting a small portion of the modern master’s prolific genius. The significance of the Papal Palace at the exhibition’s setting cannot be overlooked; the site of which is not only a feat of architecture but also a marker of history, having served as a disputed epicenter of Catholicism and a site of massacre during the French Revolution, as well as a prison and barracks in the Napoleonic era. The parallels between Picasso’s musketeers, pugilistic and historical by definition, find ample resonance in such a storied locale.