A Pablo Picasso painting, La Lecture fetched £25.2 million ($40.7 million) at a Sotheby’s auction on Tuesday. La Lecture, which shows the artist’s 17-year-old mistress Marie-Therese Walter snoozing in an armchair, went for double the estimate at sale in London last night.
It was a far from frenzied evening. Bidding for La Lecture opened at £9m and crawled slowly upwards, comfortably exceeding a pre-sale estimate of between £12m and 18m. Sotheby’s said the bidder was anonymous and announced themselves pleased with the result. There were at least seven bidders from all around the world and it was consistent with the interest we had before the sale – it is a widely admired and much appreciated painting, said Helena Newman, European chairman of Sotheby’s impressionist and modern art.
Last year, we saw some record breaking auctions. A life-size bronze sculpture of a Walking Man by Alberto Giacometti was sold at Sotheby’s auction house in London for $104.3 million. It set the world record price for an artwork at auction. Later in 2010, a 78-year-old Pablo Picasso painting, auctioned at Christie’s Evening Sale of Impressionist and Modern Art, fetched a whopping $106.5 million, thereby breaking the previous world record for any work of art sold at auction.
La Lecture is as interesting for its story as it is for being a wonderful painting. Pablo was 45, and married, when they met in 1927, and kept their relationship secret for years. She knew nothing about him before they met, but became one of his work’s strongest influences. Before Christmas of 1931 and New Year of 1932, her features appeared in his paintings only in coded form. However, this January 1932 picture uses the curves of her body to transform her into a graceful ‘sleeping beauty’, and was the first in a succession that eventually betrayed her identity. Picasso’s wife, Olga, suddenly realised the facial features were not her own. The marriage later broke up.