A masterpiece by Pablo Picasso titled “Femme à la montre” is poised to make history at auction this fall, with expectations of fetching over $120 million. The 1932 oil painting will be the highlight of a two-day auction event at Sotheby’s in New York in November when the collection of Emily Fisher Landau goes up for sale.
This iconic piece, measuring 51¼ x 38 inches (130 x 96.5 centimetres), portrays Picasso’s lover and muse, Marie-Thérèse Walter, who played a central role in many of his artworks. According to Sotheby’s, this portrait stems from one of the most prolific years in the Spanish artist’s career, as exemplified by an exhibition organized by the Musée Picasso in Paris and London’s Tate Modern in 2018.
Julian Dawes, Sotheby’s head of Impressionist & Modern Art for the Americas, described Picasso’s “Femme à la Montre” as “a masterpiece by every measure.” He noted that it was painted in 1932, which he referred to as Picasso’s “annus mirabilis,” a year marked by joyful creativity and profound artistic expression.
The relationship between Picasso and Marie-Thérèse Walter began in 1927 when she was just 17 years old, while the artist was still married to his first wife, Olga Khokhlova, a Russian-Ukrainian ballet dancer. Walter would go on to inspire some of Picasso’s most coveted works, including paintings, drawings, and sculptures. Over time, Picasso found it increasingly challenging to conceal his feelings for Walter, ultimately leading to the end of his marriage.
The painting “Femme à la montre” was created in August 1932, shortly after Picasso’s first large-scale retrospective at the Galerie Georges Petit in Paris. Sotheby’s describes the artwork as a reflection of Picasso’s newfound creative freedom, evident in its bold primary colors, beautiful forms, and meticulous attention to detail.
The painting is part of a collection that belonged to Emily Fisher Landau, a renowned contemporary art collector who passed away earlier this year at the age of 102. The collection includes works by other prominent artists such as Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol, Willem de Kooning, and Georgia O’Keeffe, with an estimated total value exceeding $400 million.
Fisher Landau’s journey into art collecting began after an insurance payout following a robbery of her jewellery in 1969. She decided to invest the compensation as seed money for her art collection, which would eventually become a remarkable assembly of modern and contemporary masterpieces.
Notably, Picasso’s portraits of Marie-Thérèse Walter have consistently commanded high prices at auctions. In 2021, “Femme assise près d’une fenêtre (Marie-Thérèse)” sold for $103.41 million, and “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust” fetched $106.5 million in 2010. In May 2015, Picasso’s “Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’)” set a record by selling for $179.4 million at Christie’s in New York, marking the highest price ever paid for a work of art at auction at that time.