NEW YORK, NY.- Christies
announced Pablo Picassos Les femmes dAlger (Version O) will be among the star lots featured at Christies New York this Spring. This painting will be one of several masterpieces offered in Looking Forward to the Past, a sale created in the spirit of the many great curated auctions Christies has organized in New York and London in recent years. This majestic, vibrantly-hued painting is the final and most highly finished work from Picassos 1954-55 series in which he looked back to 19th century French master Eugene Delacroix for inspiration, and in the process created a new style of painting. Previously sold at Christies in 1997, as part of the legendary record-breaking sale of the Collection of Victor and Sally Ganz, this iconic work promises to cause a sensation on the global art market this spring. Christies has estimated the work to realize in the region of US$140 million.
Les femmes dAlger (Version O) is among the first announced highlights of Looking Forward to the Past, an innovative addition to the spring calendar of auctions at Christies New York this May. This tightly-curated sale focuses on the major artists of the 20th century and reflects a growing trend of cross-category collecting among Christies clients.
From the auctioneers rostrum it has become clear that the many new global collectors chasing masterpieces have been waiting for an iconic Picasso to appear on the market. None is more iconic than Les femmes d'Alger. The sale on Monday 11 May promises to be a sale to remember, said Jussi Pylkkanen, Christies Global President.
Les femmes d'Alger, (Version O) is the culmination of a herculean project which Picasso started after Matisses death, in homage to his lost friend and competitor, and which over a period of 2 months and after nearly 100 studies on paper and 14 other paintings led to the creation of this phenomenal canvas in February 1955. With its packed composition, play on cubism and perspective, its violent colors, and its brilliant synthesis of Picassos lifelong obsessions, it is a milestone in Picassos oeuvre and one of his most famous masterpieces, together with Les demoiselles dAvignon, 1907 and Guernica, 1937. One can arguably say that this is the single most important painting by Picasso to remain in private hands. Its sale on 11 May will be a watershed moment in the market for 20th century art, stated Olivier Camu, Deputy Chairman, Impressionist and Modern Art.
In todays fast-paced world, it Is remarkable to think that Picassos Les femmes dAlger exhibits as much freshness of perspective and approach as it did when it was painted, declared Loic Gouzer, International Specialist, Post-War and Contemporary Art, who curated the Looking Forward to the Past sale.
LOOKING TO DELACROIX, CREATING A MASTERPIECE
Picasso painted a series of fifteen variations on Delacroixs Les femmes d'Alger between December 1954 and February 1955, designated as versions A through O. Throughout his series, Picasso references the Spanish masters two versions of the shared subject, intermingling their elements. Picasso is quoted as having an imaginary conversation with Delacroix, You had Rubens in mind, and painted a Delacroix. I paint [the Les femmes dAlger series] with you in mind, and make something different again," (ed. M. McCully, A Picasso Anthology: Documents, Criticism, Reminiscences, London, 1997, p. 251).
Picasso had been fascinated by Delacroix all his adult life, and by Les femmes d'Alger in particular. Picassos companions testify to this intense fixation; Sir Roland Penrose states, This picture haunted his memory, (R. Penrose, Picasso: His Life and Art, Berkeley, 1985 (3rd ed.), p. 395). In her 1964 book, Francoise Gilot recounted: He had often spoken to me of making his own version of Femmes dAlger and had taken me to the Louvre on an average of once a month to study it. I asked him how he felt about Delacroix. His eyes narrowed and he said, That bastard. He's really good.
In addition to being an homage to Delacroix, Picasso conceived the series as an elegy to his friend and great artistic rival, Henri Matisse. Matisse had died in November 1954, five weeks before Picasso began the series. Matisse viewed Delacroix as his immediate forebear in terms of color and Orientalist subject matter. Carrying this legacy forward, Picasso stated, When Matisse died, he left his odalisques to me as a legacy, (R. Penrose, Picasso: His Life and Art, Berkeley, 1985 (3rd ed.), p. 396).
Over the years, Les femmes d'Alger (Version O) has been featured prominently in major Picasso retrospectives all over the world, including at The Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1957 and 1980, The National Gallery in London in 1960, the Grand Palais, Paris in 1966-1967, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York in 1968, and more recently at the survey Picasso et les Maîtres at the Louvre in 2008-2009, as well as at Picasso: Challenging the Past, at Londons National Gallery in 2009, and Picasso & Modern British Art at the Tate Britain in 2012.
THE GANZ PROVENANCE
Les femmes dAlger (Version O), 1955 last appeared at auction in 1997, as a key highlight of Christies sale devoted to the celebrated collection of Victor and Sally Ganz. The Ganzes were the original owners of the the full, 15-painting series Les femmes dAlger, bought directly from Picassos dealer Daniel Kahnweiler, who had cannily insisted that one buyer purchase the entire group. Victor and Sally Ganz complied, acquiring the series on June 6, 1956 for $212,500. They later sold ten to the Saidenberg Gallery, keeping Versions C, H, K, M and O for themselves. Version C was sold in 1988 following the death of Victor Ganz, and the remaining four, including Version O, were sold as individual lots at the 1997 sale at Christies New York. The collection totaled $206.5 million, setting an auction record for any single-owner collection at the time. Les femmes dAlger (Version O) was sold for $31,902,500, more than twice its high estimate of $12 million.
Additional highlights of Looking Forward to the Past will be announced in the coming weeks, prior to the start of an international highlights tour, which will further celebrate 20th century art and its legacy through a program of events and exhibitions designed to inspire engagement and discussion among collectors and art enthusiasts.