Picasso auction a barometer of collectors' tastes

Geraldine Norman
Sunday 23 October 2011 03:03

THE SALE of 88 Picasso paintings, drawings and sculptures by Sotheby's in New York on Thursday night proved a spectacular reminder that art is about taste. They had been collected by Stanley J Seeger, the grandson of an oil tycoon who has devoted his life to art and music and become, in recent years, a recluse. He listened to the sale over the telephone from Europe.

The enduring appeal of Picasso led to a success that put this week's other New York picture sales in the shade. Each of the 88 lots was sold, for a total of pounds 21.6m, far above what Mr Seeger had paid for the works over the past 13 years.

A Cubist drawing titled Tete d'Homme a la Pipe sold for dollars 1.597m ( pounds 1.1m), almost twice the lower estimate. A private collector was so entranced by the saucy moustache, pipe and eyebrows that creep into Picasso's charcoal geometry that he paid over the odds; Mr Seeger had done the same when he bought the drawing at Sotheby's in 1986, for dollars 1.55m.

In contrast, a rare landscape of 1956, titled Coucher de Soleil, sold for dollars 398,400 ( pounds 274,000) against an estimate of dollars 500,000-dollars 700,000 ( pounds 344,000- pounds 482,000); it had cost Mr Seeger dollars 1.72m at auction in 1989.

The top price in the sale was dollars 4.4m ( pounds 3.03m) for Femmes et enfants au bord de la mer, from 1932; all the abstract figures cavorting on the beach have the face of Picasso's mistress at the time. Mr Seeger paid dollars 1.089m in 1983.

Heinz Berggruen, the retired art dealer whose great collection of modern paintings is on loan to the National Gallery in London, bought two still-lifes that could turn up in Trafalgar Square before long. He paid dollars 2.312m ( pounds 1.59m) for Verre, bouquet, guitare, bouteille, of 1919, and dollars 2.092m ( pounds 1.44m) for Cartes a jouer, paquet de tabac, bouteille, verre, of 1914. Both prices were in line with expectations.

Mr Seeger had set himself the task of forming a collection representing all the major styles that Picasso adopted. He also took a special interest in works that Picasso had given to friends; no other collector had managed to find so many, according to John Richardson, Picasso's biographer. For instance, he owned a Cubist watercolour titled Guitar which Picasso gave Gertrude Stein in 1918. When her companion, Alice B Toklas, decided to use it as a pattern for an embroidered chair-cover, Gertrude offered to trace it. Picasso intervened, according to Toklas' autobiography, saying: 'If it is done by anybody, it will be done by me.' The watercolour sold for dollars 63,000 ( pounds 43,000).

(Photograph omitted)

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