Picasso portrait valued at US$50 million going on show in Hong Kong ahead of February auction

Poignant painting of serial polygamist’s then lover Marie-Thérèse Walter was completed in 1937, the year of artist’s anti-war painting Guernica

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 January, 2018, 5:47pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 January, 2018, 12:00pm

A poignant portrait by Pablo Picasso of his lover Marie-Thérèse Walter will be shown in Hong Kong from January 30 to February 2 ahead of its auction in London next month.

Femme au béret et à la robe quadrillée (Marie-Thérèse Walter) is expected to sell for in the region of US$50 million at the Impressionist and Modern Art evening sale in London on February 28, according to auctioneer Sotheby’s.

It was painted in 1937, a year described as “pivotal” by Helena Newman, Sotheby’s global co-head of Impressionist and modern art, as the horrors of the Spanish civil war prompted the painter to produce his powerful anti-war painting Guernica and the “Weeping Woman” series.

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Walter became Picasso’s muse and lover at the age of 17 after the painter saw her outside the Galeries Lafayette department store in Paris and was struck by her physical appearance. Picasso kept Walter hidden from his wife, Russian ballerina Olga Khokhlova, for years, and in 1935, Walter gave birth to their daughter Maya.

The serial polygamist could have been referring to many of the portraits he did of the wives and lovers who served as his muses – the subject of an exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery in 2016 and of Picasso 1932, a show currently being held at the National Picasso Museum in Paris and travelling to the Tate Modern in London in March.

This painting of the then 28-year-old Walter is very different from her earlier portraits, where Picasso’s “Golden Muses” tend to be shown with voluptuous curves and in passive poses. Gone is the sultry, smiling woman in Le Rêve (1932). Here, Walter sits poised, lips pursed, her face in sharp, angular lines. In the background is a dark silhouette, which may be interpreted as the lurking presence of Picasso’s new woman – Dora Maar, the photographer who inspired Picasso to create his more political works in 1937.

Picasso has been quoted as saying: “It must be painful for a girl to see in a painting that she is on the way out.”

Walter committed suicide four years after Picasso’s death in 1973.

The painting will be on show with other highlights from the London sale at Sotheby’s gallery,

5/F One Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, 10am-6pm.

There will be more Picassos on show from March 16-31, when Sotheby’s S2, the private sale and gallery arm of Sotheby’s contemporary art department, holds a selling exhibition called “Face-Off: Picasso / Condo”, featuring works by the modernist master and those of the American contemporary artist George Condo.