At its newly merged 20th/21st century art department’s first major evening sale this fall, Christie’s will sell Pablo Picasso’s Femme dans un fauteuil (1941) as the leading lot. Expected to fetch between $20 million–$30 million, the work will go up for sale at Christie’s New York location on October 6 alongside recently unveiled works by Paul Cézanne, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Joan Mitchell.
At 51⅛ inches by 38 inches, the work features one of Picasso’s three muses, the Surrealist photographer and artist Dora Maar, whom he met in 1936. The Christie’s sale marks its first time at auction.
The piece is a seminal example of Picassos’ wartime artistic developments, according to a statement from Conor Jordan, Christie’s Deputy Chairman of Impressionist and Modern Art. Completed in 1941 following the Nazi regime’s occupation in Paris, it is from a series of works featuring Maar Picasso made in his Paris studio as the events of World War II unfolded across Europe and elsewhere.
Picasso’s portraits featuring Maar are among his most prized paintings. She famously inspired his “Weeping Woman” series, and the artist once said, “For years I painted her in tortured forms.” Works depicting Maar now command some of Picasso’s highest prices. His seated portrait titled Dora Maar au chat (1941) sold for $95.2 million at Sotheby’s in May 2006. More recently, Buste de femme (Femme à la résille), from 1938, sold for $67.4 million at Christie’s in May 2015.
“By turns anguished and lyrical, aggressive and despondent, the works all share an urgency, making them as much expressions of Picasso’s state of mind as portraits of Dora,” Jordan said of the series. “Sequestered in the cool light and pressing angles of the attic space, Dora is depicted on a grand scale as proud and unbending, an image of stately defiance, a modern Marianne.”
Comparable examples of Maar in similar dress from the 1940s series reside at the Musée Picasso in Paris, the Kunstmuseum Basel in Switzerland, and the Neue Pinakothek in Munich. A skilled artist in her own right, Maar found early success with her photography in Paris during the 1930s. She also documented Picasso’s month-long creation of his seminal work Guernica (1937), as well as the present work coming up for sale. Christie’s statement on the work notes Maar’s essential role in Picasso’s practice describes her as “an active participant in their intense artistic dialogue.” Long overshadowed by her relationship with Picasso, Maar’s work is now seeing critical attention, with a first a major traveling retrospective that first opened at the Centre Pompidou last year.