Picasso tribute to Matisse expected to become most expensive painting sold at auction

It is expected to fetch more than $155 million

Matilda Battersby
Monday 11 May 2015 11:14
Pablo Picasso's 'Les femmes d'Alger (Version 'O')
Pablo Picasso's 'Les femmes d'Alger (Version 'O')

A Picasso masterpiece painted in tribute to his late friend and rival Henry Matisse - a highlight of the Picasso exhibition at Tate in 2012 — is expected to become the world’s most expensive painting sold at auction.

Les femmes d’Alger (version O), which will go under the hammer in New York today, is acknowledged by experts to be one of the Spanish artists’ most impressive paintings still in a private collection.

It is the last and most celebrated of 15 variations of Les femmes d’Alger, which Picasso began in 1954 following Matisse’s death, taking inspiration from Eugene Delacroix.

Christie’s has given the work a pre-sale estimate of $140 million and it is tipped to smash the current record of $142 million paid for a Francis Bacon triptych at the auction house in 2013.

The art market is currently feverishly buoyant with last week’s $368 million Sotheby’s spring sale exceeding estimates by tens of millions and a van Gogh selling for more then $20 million its predicted worth.

The 1881 van Gogh, L’allée Des Alyscamps, of the Roman necropolis in Arles, France fetched $66.3 million at auction in New York after five bidders competed to acquire the work pushing it well above its $40 million guide price.

If the Picasso work sells for its estimate at the Christie’s New York sale in the Rockefeller Centre tonight it will exceed the record set by the Bacon triptych as the pre-sale estimate doesn’t include the 12 per cent commission added by Christie’s - meaning it would sell for more than $155 million.

Other artworks are believed to have exchanged for more than $142 million on the private market, but details are sketchy and buyers are loathe to expose their investments to the glare of publicity unnecessarily.

Last week’s Sotheby’s sale was fuelled by bidding wars and high net worth buyers from Asia. Purchasers of artworks under these circumstances usually remain anonymous.

The most expensive Picasso sold at auction was Nude, Green Leaves and Bust which sold at Christie’s in 2010 for $106.5 million.

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