In a stunning display of the art market’s vibrancy, Pablo Picasso‘s 1932 masterpiece “Femme à la montre” achieved a record-breaking sale, fetching more than $139 million at a Sotheby’s auction in New York. This significant sale has positioned the painting as the most valuable piece of art sold at auction globally in 2023, underscoring the enduring allure and value of Picasso’s work.
The painting, a luminous portrayal of Picasso’s muse and lover Marie-Thérèse Walter, is a highlight of New York City’s autumn art auction season. The auction season is often regarded as an indicator of the health and trends of the broader art market. “Femme à la montre” (“Woman with a Watch” in English) became a focal point of the estimated $400 million sale of the collection of the late philanthropist Emily Fisher Landau. Its nine-digit sale price also secured its status as the second most-expensive Picasso work ever sold at auction, following “Les femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’),” which realized $179.3 million at Christie’s in 2015.
The painting captures Marie-Thérèse Walter, Picasso’s muse, in a regal, throne-like chair set against a vibrant blue backdrop. The watch on her wrist is a recurring element in Picasso’s works, also appearing in pieces featuring his wife, the Russian-Ukrainian ballerina Olga Khokhlova. Walter was just 17 when she met the then 45-year-old Picasso in Paris, and their subsequent secret relationship inspired a series of artworks, including “Femme nue couchée,” which itself fetched $67.5 million at auction in 2022.
1932 was a pivotal year for Picasso, marking a period of intense creative fervor and ambition. At 50, he was already a celebrated figure in the art world, but this year saw him confronting and dispelling criticisms that questioned his relevance in the contemporary art scene. This artistic drive was acknowledged by institutions such as the Tate Modern museum, highlighting the significance of this period in Picasso’s career.
Fisher Landau’s acquisition of the painting from New York’s Pace Gallery in 1968 marked the beginning of its journey in her esteemed collection. It held a place of honor above the mantle in her Manhattan apartment for decades, as per Sotheby’s records.
The sale of “Femme à la montre” was a moment of high drama at the auction, with an anonymous buyer ultimately prevailing over two other bidders. This sale not only reflects the high esteem in which Picasso’s work is held but also serves as a testament to the vitality and dynamism of the global art market. As the painting finds a new home, its legacy continues, symbolizing both the genius of Picasso and the timeless appeal of his art.