This report on the Picasso market by Colin Gleadell is available to AMMpro subscribers. (The first month of AMMpro is free and subscribers are welcome to sign up for the first month and cancel before they are billed.)
The dearth of live auctions during lockdown, and especially the big Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary sales in New York and London has provided little public information on what is happening at the top for headline artists. (Though there have been some big private sales said to have been completed.) To take the most obvious—if there ever was an artist who could ride a downturn, it has to be Picasso. A current public perspective could start with Sotheby’s Picasso sale yesterday and lead to some heavyweight lots coming up in the summer—who is selling and how much for.
This week’s sale of sixty lower value works by Picasso ( i.e., prints, drawings and ceramics from £500 to 50,000,) from the collection of his granddaughter, Marina Picasso, whom he largely ignored during his lifetime, was the tenth such sale staged by Sotheby’s and highlighted the importance of provenance in the Picasso market.
Marina inherited some 10,000 works following the artist’s death in 1973 and, because of their uneasy relationship, has had no emotional attachment to them. Their sales, however, have helped to support her favored children’s charities, her own children and grandchildren, not to mention a comfortable personal lifestyle.
For 28 years, she sold through the Swiss dealer, Jan Krugier, and after his death in 2005 she turned to Sotheby’s. Her most valuable works have sold as single lots raising some £200 million, but the greatest quantity of work has been assembled in single owner sales of lower value material – raising an estimated £40 million. Most of the drawings were unsigned, relying on provenance and his tendency to inscribe dates precisely for authenticity.
To that total can now be added £2.6 million for today’s sale, comfortably in excess of the £1 million estimate. Only two lots, a feint portrait drawing and an empty, scrappy collage, went unsold. They were, perhaps overestimated and a sign that Sotheby’s, which has no plans at present for further such sales from the heiress, may be scraping the bottom of this particular barrel.
The best results came from the more resolved cubist period drawings. A stack of houses on a hillside from c1909 sold for £237,500 (est £20,000/30,000), and a group of three female nudes from c1907/08 for £325,000 (£30,000/40,000). Estimates throughout were tame. The surprise lot was the first of three palettes, the largest of which (with paintwork resembling something between a chimpanzee and a Joan Mitchell), sold after 39 bids for £56,250 (£4,000/6,000).
In the mixed owner section which followed, the two highest estimated lots told a different story. A ceramic, Grand Vase aux Femmes Nues, bought for $398,500 in 2012 got only one bid and sold for £435,000—a small % return in 8 years—while the next highest estimate, £400,000/£600,000 for a 1933 drawing, Le Voyeur, which was bought at Sotheby’s Krugier sale in 2014 for £265,000 by dealer, Alon Zakaim, got no bids near the £400,000 low estimate. So an unpredictable time for profit taking on lower value Picasso’s.
Sotheby’s successes and failures, however, are unlikely to have any bearing on the outcome for four major works worth an estimated $40 million plus which are lined up this summer when the Picasso market shifts up into another gear. Certainly that market was still looking healthy at the end of February when Steve Wynn reportedly paid $105 million for two Picassos – Woman with Beret and Collar (1937), a portrait of the artist’s mistress Dora Maar, and a later, 1962 portrait of his wife Jacqueline, Seated Woman (Jacqueline), from the late Donald B Marron’s collection. Sotheby’s and Christie’s had both been angling to handle the $450 million collection, but instead it went to a consortium of dealers – Acquavella, Pace and Gagosian. In April, Gagosian also reported selling an early pastel for $10 million. But there have been no public auction sales of Picasso in the million plus level since early February in London, so the forthcoming sales this summer will be watched with added interest.
Sotheby’s has insured against failure in its June 29 auction with the guarantee of their three Picassos, one of which, a 1934 portrait of Marie-Therese Walter asleep ($9-12 million), is from the David Lloyd Kreeger Foundation, which is selling to provide income for its museum in Washington during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Faced with the loss of income to the Museum during the pandemic, we have determined that it is necessary to deaccession one of our beloved Picassos in order to maintain good stewardship of our collection” said Peter L. Kreeger, President of the David Lloyd Kreeger Foundation and Chair of the Museum’s Board of Trustees, last month when they consigned the work. “Proceeds from this sale,” he added, “will also be used to diversify and strengthen our collection” which has holdings of African and African American art. The painting will sell because it has an irrevocable, third party bid.
Of the other two, neither are lining up for big gains. A 1929 portrait of his wife, Olga Khokhlova, was last at auction in 2002 when it sold to the present owner for £2.43 million ($3.6 million) and now has a $4/6 million estimate and a house guarantee; while a 1952 landscape, Le Reservoir, bought by a London collector in 2016 for £2.8 Million ($4.1 million) might return a loss even though guaranteed by Sotheby’s with a $3/4 million estimate.
In Christie’s multiple location ONE sale on July 10th, is the higher priced Picasso – Les femmes d’Alger, (version ‘F’), 1955, from the series of 15 works inspired by Delacroix’ work of the same title. The entire series was bought by Victor and Sally Ganz in 1955 for 80 million francs ($213,000), who then sold 9 through the dealers Eleanore and Daniel Saidenberg. The Saidenberg’s kept version F, passing it through the family until it was sold privately to the current seller. Although Christie’s is not divulging their identity, the word is that the seller is Hong Kong businessman Joseph Lau. Lau, whose lavish acquisitions of modern and contemporary art are well documented, has been charged with money laundering in Macau, but remains untouchable outside mainland China. Last year he was the unnamed seller of David Hockney’s £23.1 million swimming pool painting at Sotheby’s in London.
Picasso’s Les femmes d’Alger (version F) has a not unreasonable estimate in the region of $25 million and has been guaranteed by Christie’s who will likely get a third party to cover that. The much larger version O sold in 2015 at Christie’s New York for a staggering $179 million reportedly to the former Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani. Other versions are in the Berggruen Museum in Berlin and the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum at Washington University in St. Louis, while two are owned by the Nahmad family of art dealers. Version H was bought at Christie’s in New York for $7.15 million in November 1997, as part of the Ganz collection, and Version J was bought at Sotheby’s in 2005 for $18.6 million (£9.6 million).