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Picasso painting sells for $139 million, most valuable art auctioned this year

Picasso painting sells for $139 million, most valuable art auctioned this year
'Cubist Still Life'. This is one of the images from my Dialogue with Art series, in which I reference my favourite artists. This particular image was inspired by Pablo Picasso, and was created using my camera’s multiple-exposure setting. © Elli Asker, Azerbaijan, Shortlist, Open Competition, Creative, 2023 Sony World Photography Awards

Pablo Picasso’s 1932 painting “Femme à la montre” sold for more than $139 million on Wednesday at a Sotheby’s New York auction, making it the most valuable work of art sold globally at an auction this year.

By Ben Kellerman

The work is a standout of New York City’s fall art auction season, seen by many as a bellwether for the art market. It went under the hammer as part of an estimated $400 million sale of the collection of late philanthropist Emily Fisher Landau.

The nine-digit price made it the second most-expensive Picasso painting to sell at auction, behind “Les femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’),” which fetched $179.3 million, including a buyer’s premium, at Christie’s in 2015.

“Femme à la montre,” which translates from French to “Woman with a Watch,” is a portrait of the artist’s lover Marie-Thérèse Walter seated in a throne-like chair against a blue background. The titular wristwatch is a motif also seen in artwork Picasso made of his wife, Russian-Ukrainian ballerina Olga Khokhlova.

Walter was 17 years old when she met the 45-year-old Picasso in Paris, and the two later entered into a secret relationship while he was still married to Khokhlova. Walter became his subject for a number of artworks, including the 1932 painting “Femme nue couchée,” which sold for $67.5 million at auction in 2022.

Picasso painted “Femme à la montre” at a pivotal year in his career. At 50 years old, he had already achieved widespread fame by 1932 but ramped up his ambitions to silence critics who questioned “whether he was an artist of the past rather than the future,” according to the Tate Modern museum.

Fisher Landau bought the painting from New York’s Pace Gallery in 1968 and kept it above the mantle in her Manhattan apartment, according to Sotheby’s.

An anonymous buyer beat out two other bidders for the painting.

(Reporting by Ben Kellerman; Editing by Rod Nickel)

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