Portrait of Marie-Therese Walter by Pablo Picasso

Femme à la montre, a portrait of Marie-Therese Walter from 1932 by Pablo Picasso. It sold for $121m (£98.4m) at Sotheby’s.

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Femme à la montre was the highlight of the 31-lot evening sale of the Emily Fisher Landau collection offered on November 8. Depicting the artist’s lover and muse Marie-Therese Walter, it had an ‘estimate on request’ which was believed to be in excess of $120m.

With the auction house having arranged an ‘irrevocable bids’ from third parties for all of the lots in the sale, it was always bound to sell on the night. It was eventually knocked down at $121m (£98.4m) to a telephone bidder operating through Sotheby's chairman and worldwide head of sales Brooke Lampley. With fees added, the price was $139.4m (£113.3m).  

In terms of the all-time highest prices for Picasso, it stands only behind the $160m (£108.1m) for Les Femmes d'Alger (Version 'O') that sold at Christie’s New York in 2015. It also ranked as the eighth most expensive work to ever sell at auction (ATG’s table of top auction prices is based on hammer prices in pounds sterling).

Impassioned affair

Femme à la montre was painted on 17 August 1932 at a time when Picasso was producing dozens of sensuous depictions of Marie-Thérèse. Executed at the pinnacle of their impassioned affair, it was described in the Sotheby’s catalogue as “one of the most resolved and complex depictions from this highly charged year”.

Never having been offered at auction before, Landau had bought the 4ft 3in x 3ft 2in (1.3 x 97cm) signed oil on canvas from Pace Gallery in New York in November 1968. She gave it pride of place above the mantle in her apartment.

The evening sale of the Landau collection raised $406.4m (£330.4m) including fees, making it the most valuable auction ever devoted to a female collector according to Sotheby’s. A further group of 82 lots are being offered at separate Sotheby’s day sale.

Emily Fisher Landau, who died earlier this year at the age of 102, began collecting in the late 1960s. The wife of real estate developer Martin Fisher (who predeceased her in 1976), she was a working member of the Whitney Museum of American Art board for 30 years and bought a number of major works through Pace Gallery as well as fellow New York dealer Leo Castelli Gallery.

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