There’s a reason why Femme au béret et à la robe quadrillée (Marie-Thérèse Walter) is set to be the star at Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale in London on February 28. 

Even from afar, the 55x46cm canvas captured visitors’ attention when it was unveiled in Hong Kong from January 30 to February 2, before it was shipped off to Taipei (February 6-7), New York (February 12-14) and London (February 22-28).

With its playful form and intense colour contrast, we could almost see Picasso toying with geometric shapes and bold black outlines in the 1937 painting. 

The women in Picasso’s life were often the muse for his work, and Femme au béret et à la robe quadrillée is one of the pinnacles in the artist’s legacy. There is more than what meets the eye in the painting. Here are four things you didn’t know about Femme au béret et à la robe quadrillée

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1. There is more than one woman in this painting

Perhaps a reflection of the many women in Picasso’s life, the painting camouflages a lurking presence behind the depiction of Marie-Thérèse Walter in the foreground. The looming silhouette of Dora Maar, Picasso’s new mistress from the late 1930s to early 1940s, is visible in the artwork. By the time the painting was created in 1937, Walter was – as quoted by Picasso – “on the way out”. 

“While substantially this is a portrait of Walter, it’s also a painting about duality,” says James Mackie, Sotheby’s head of Impressionist & Modern Art, referring to the “vivid, glorious palette” set against the dark background. “It’s an indication that he’s thinking about the Spanish Civil War [while painting this].” 

While substantially this is a portrait of Walter, it’s also a painting about duality
James Mackie

2. It was created in one of Picasso’s best years

Femme au béret et à la robe quadrillée was painted in December, 1937. Earlier in the year, Picasso created the widely acclaimed masterpieces Guernica and The Weeping Woman, which now reside in Reina Sofia in Madrid and the Tate Modern in London, respectively. 

“It is possibly one of the greatest years in his entire career,” Mackie says,adding that the influence of Guernica, which was loaded with metaphors and complexities provoked by the social turbulence in Spain, is visible in many of Picasso’s later works. 

3. It is likely to become one of Picasso’s 10 most expensive paintings

The estimated price of US$50 million is the 10th highest standing price of Picasso’s works, just behind the 1903 oil-on-canvas Portrait d’Angel Fernández de Soto, which sold for US$51 million at Christie’s London.

The most expensive Picasso has been Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’), which sold for about US$179 million at Christie’s New York in 2015.

4. It’s the first time we’ve seen it on the market

Although we might have seen many depictions of the “golden muse” Walter, including Le Rêve and Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, it’s the first time we’ve seen this artwork on the market.

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If you missed Femme au béret et à la robe quadrillée, you can still catch the selling exhibition “Face-Off: Picasso/Condo” which will feature portrait works by Pablo Picasso and George Condo (March 16-31, Sotheby’s Hong Kong Gallery, 5/F, One Pacific Place).