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This particular Picasso has never been offered at auction before. Picasso kept the unvarnished portrait in his personal collection for nearly four decades before his death in 1973. It was then kept in a private collection and rarely loaned or seen in public. It will make its debut as a star lot of Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale in London on February 28 and will carry an estimate of $50m.

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It was created in 1937 - a key year for the Spanish artist. Earlier that year Picasso created his great masterpiece Guernica as well as The Weeping Women. In the final month of that year he painted this “vivid, poignant and intense image of his golden muse Marie-Thérèse Walter”. 

Does it mark the end of his love affair for muse Marie-Thérèse Walter? Sotheby’s said the painting charts Picasso’s “evolving relationship with his muse Marie-Thérèse Walter, to whom he was ostensibly still devoted at the time, and the increasingly dominant presence of his new lover Dora Maar... Whether it represents Maar or indeed a self-portrait, the implication is that of duality and conflict. Picasso is quoted: ‘It must be painful for a girl to see in a painting that she is on the way out’.”

This painting represents the development of Picasso's cubism. The cubism movement began around 1907–08 with Picasso and Georges Braque. By the 1930s Picasso's works had evolved and this painting reveals that evolution. The work’s sharp cubistic edges, thick impastoed paint, bold palette and black outlines give it a distinct visual impact.

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A market test for Picasso at auction? Thomas Bompard, head of Sotheby’s London Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sales, said: “Of all of the artist’s styles and decades, this is the one that most epitomises the legacy of Picasso as a portraitist of women – with this particular painting encompassing all of the key elements for which he is recognised and celebrated. It undoubtedly represents what is most desirable for a connoisseur and collector of modern art.”