Melancholy blue lady by Picasso may fetch $25m

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The Independent Online

An early Picasso painting that was once owned by the American writer Gertrude Stein is expected to fetch at least $25m (£16m) at auction later this year after being put on the market by its anonymous owners.

An early Picasso painting that was once owned by the American writer Gertrude Stein is expected to fetch at least $25m (£16m) at auction later this year after being put on the market by its anonymous owners.

The portrait, Femme aux bras croisées (Woman with folded arms), from Picasso's Blue period, was unveiled in London yesterday as part of a short pre-sale tour that takes in Zurich, Tokyo, Taipei and finally Los Angeles.

The melancholy painting is due to be sold by Christie's during a sale of Impressionist and Modern Art in New York in November, where the auctioneers expect its price to exceed $25m.

The tour of lots, which will be on show at Christie's in London tomorrow and on Monday, also includes an Edouard Manet, Pivoines dans une bouteille, Henri Fantin-Latour's romantic Bouquet de roses et d'autres fleurs, a Claude Monet, Cap d'Antibes, and a small gouache on paper by René Magritte, Les Châteaux des Pyrénées.

Picasso painted Femme aux bras croisées in 1902 during his period in Barcelona between 1900 and 1904.

Then aged 21, he was part of a circle of young avant-garde Symbolist artists and writers in the city who espoused political anarchy and sympathised with bohemians, alcoholics and the underclasses.

After his closest friend, Carlos Casagemas, committed suicide, Picasso began using blues almost exclusively.

This monochromatic style was rarely used in Spain and France, as it was associated with sadness and also despair.

Elizabeth Cowling, an art historian at Edinburgh University and co-curator of the recent retrospective Picasso: Sculptor and Painter, said the painting also reflected the artist's visits to see syphilitic prostitutes in the St Lazare hospital in Paris. It also illustrated his interest in the Spanish master El Greco.

Professor Cowling said: "It's a very good example of Symbolism in general, with its concentration on the mood and psychology of the sitter. It shouldn't be seen as a portrait of anyone in particular. It's a generic image of a miserable type of woman.

"I'm not going to say it's a masterpiece, because it is not, but it is an important piece coming on to the market."

Gertrude Stein, a noted patron of the arts, was the painting's first buyer in 1902. It was then held in several private European collections before being bought from a New York dealer in 1936 by its present owners, who have asked to remain anonymous.

In 1932 it was featured in the Zurich viewing of the first Picasso retrospective, organised by the Galerie Georges Petit in Paris in that year. That exhibition sealed Picasso's reputation. In 1968 it was exhibited at an important Picasso exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, and has remained on loan there since 1972.

The last major painting from Picasso's Blue period, Maternité, dating from 1901, was sold by Christie's in New York in 1988 for $24.75m. That was quickly eclipsed, in 1989, when Les Noces de Pierrette, painted in 1905, achieved the world record price for a Picasso of $54m.

The last important Picasso sold at auction, Femme assize dans un jardin, painted in 1938, made £30m at a Sotheby's sale in New York last year.

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