Art sales bank on market for masterpieces

Works not seen in public for decades are expected to fetch record prices

The green brush strokes of recovery will be daubed across the London art scene next month when masterpieces by Picasso, Renoir and Matisse unseen for decades go under the hammer.

Owners have been encouraged to put works back on the market after several works sold for record prices last year. Jussi Pylkänen, president of Christie's Europe, said: "There is a masterpiece market – a Medici market – with significant collectors who have the appetite to buy the best. It is something I've not seen in the 20 years I've been working."

One French collector has consigned four works, including Mademoiselle Grimprel Au Ruban Rouge by Renoir, which has not been sold in 60 years. Its estimate is £2.5m.

Pablo Picasso's portrait of his second wife, Tête De Femme (Jacqueline), to be sold by another collector, is expected to fetch £3m to £4m. It has not been seen in public since 1967.

Also up for sale will be Nu Aux Jambes Croiseés, by Henri Matisse, which dates from 1936 when the artist embarked on an intense relationship with a 22-year-old Russian emigré Lidia Delektorskaya, whom he had hired as his assistant. His ailing wife demanded he dismiss her, which he duly did, but she divorced him anyway after 31 years of marriage. Miss Delektorskaya was promptly re-hired, and the painting produced. It has not been seen in public since 1863, and may fetch upwards of £4m.

Last year the sale of the French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent's private collection broke several records, including a Matisse painting that fetched £27m and an early wooden sculpture by Constantin Brancusi, never before seen in public, which sold for more than £25m.

Christie's will also auction post-war and contemporary works in a separate sale. Among them is a rare "gold sponge relief" – a sponge fixed with resin and painted gold – by the French early postmodernist Yves Klein. Highlights from the sales are on show at Christie's London gallery in St James's. The impressionist sale is on 2 February and the post-war and contemporary sale is on the 11th.

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