As we’ve previously noted, Pablo Picasso is having quite the spring. A portrait of his lover, Marie-Thérèse Walter, which he allegedly painted in just one day, sold for a record $106.5 million at Christie’s last night. Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, which was painted in March 1932, portrays Marie-Thérèse as a voluptuous, reclining nude and as a head on a pedestal, surrounded by sensual green leaves — including a heart-shaped one — and Picasso’s own profile (in the background) kissing one of the leaves. Part portrait, part still life it’s a magical painting that unquestionably shows the artist at his best. The question on everyone’s mind now is who had the money and the passion to acquire it?
The early-1930s paintings of Picasso’s blonde mistress are highly coveted. The Museum of Modern Art and Guggenheim Museum, as well as Israeli shipping magnate Sammy Ofer, Victoria’s Secret retailer Leslie Wexner, casino mogul Steve Wynn, and hedge fund honcho Steven A. Cohen, own canvases from the same series. Cohen had actually closed a deal to buy Wynn’s painting, The Dream from 1931, for $139 million in 2006 when Wynn accidentally put his elbow through the canvas, while showing it to friends.
Nude, Green Leaves and Bust came from the collection of the Los Angeles philanthropist Frances Brody, who died in November and was the wife of the real estate developer Sidney F. Brody. The Brodys purchased the painting in 1951 and lent it only once, for a 1961 exhibition celebrating the Picasso’s 80th birthday. In the years prior to that viewing, the only known record of the painting was Cecil Beaton’s 1933 photograph of Picasso regally posing in front of it.
The purchase of the 5-by-4-foot painting trumps the $104.3 million spent three months ago for an Alberto Giacometti sculpture, Walking Man I, as well as Picasso’s 2004 record of $104.1 million for his 1905 work, Boy With a Pipe. Christie’s auctioneer Christopher Burge started the bidding on the nude at $58 million and raised the stakes by $1 million increments. After only eight minutes of bidding the masterpiece was sold.
Bids came from Asia, the U.S., and Europe, including the former Soviet Republic. The buyer, who had placed the winning bid by phone, was not identified. However, given that Cohen was willing to spend far more for The Dream, our bet is that he got it — and considered it a bargain.
Cecil Beaton, Pablo Picasso, 1933. Courtesy the Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby’s
Christie's designed a special replica of the Brody's home to market works from her collection. From left to right: Matisse, Picasso, and Giacometti. Courtesy Christie's.