Dallas-based Heritage Auctions has unveiled an ink drawing by Pablo Picasso once owned by American literary giant John Steinbeck to be sold at auction. Mère et enfant, completed around 1951, will go up for sale on June 18 in the house’s Modern & Contemporary Art Auction; it is expected to sell for $80,000–$100,000.
The work has changed hands only twice; it was first owned by California collectors, Jules Buck, an American film producer, and his actress wife, Joyce Buck. According to Leon Benrimon, vice president of Modern & Contemporary Art at Heritage, it’s believed the Bucks acquired the work directly from Picasso himself following their move to Paris in 1952, as the film industry expanded in Europe. John and Elaine Steinbeck then acquired the work at an unknown date, and it has stayed in the family’s collection for a number of decades since then. The drawing’s authenticity was confirmed in 2007 by Claude Ruiz-Picasso.
Featuring Picasso’s classic subject matter of a mother and child, at 10 5/8 by 8 3/8 inches, the work was made in a seminal late period in the artist’s prolific career, the same year he painted Massacre in Korea, a response to American intervention in the Korean war. The mid 1950s marked Picasso’s foray into film as well, when he made Le Mystère Picasso, shown at Cannes in 1956, with French director Henri-Georges Clouzot.
The Steinbeck estate was at the center of a long legal dispute between the author’s heirs until this past August, when a decision was issued. The author’s stepdaughter, Waverly Scott Kaffaga—who inherited rights to the estate from her late mother and the writer’s widow, Elaine Steinbeck—was awarded $13 million in a lawsuit against the estate of her stepbrother, Thomas Steinbeck (who died in 2016), the author’s son from his second marriage. The ruling was made over claims he and his wife had hindered film adaptations of the writer’s works, but the feud between family members dates back to 1983, when issues developed around a formal agreement between the heirs over copyrights.
Heritage reports it has been working with the John Steinbeck estate since last year, when it brought a selection of written material from the estate to auction. A dedicated sale held in October 2019 achieved a total of $154,216 for 35 lots. Leading the Steinbeck sale was a letter signed by Jacqueline Kennedy that sold for $18,750, along with the Nobel Prize–winner’s “warm up journal” from 1946, which took in $17,500. Heritage confirmed there are no additional artworks from the estate currently scheduled to come up for sale.