Picasso's 1934 portrait of muse, Marie-Thérèse Walter to highlight Sotheby's sale

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Picasso's 1934 portrait of muse, Marie-Thérèse Walter to highlight Sotheby's sale
Pablo Picasso's Head of a Sleeping Woman (Tête de femme endormie) (1934). Courtesy Sotheby's.

NEW YORK, NY.- Sotheby’s unveiled the full contents of the New York Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale, to be held live on 29 June. The e-catalogue showcasing all of the works on offer is now live on sothebys.com, presenting enhanced visual storytelling through video, interactive media, and more rich content.

Sotheby’s three New York evening sales on 29 June will be presided-over remotely by Chairman and auctioneer Oliver Barker from London, and will be live-streamed to the world. Bidders can take part live via Sotheby’s state-of-the-art proprietary bidding platform, or on the phone with Sotheby’s specialists on phone banks around the globe – in New York, Hong Kong and London. The auctioneer will see and accept bids via zero-latency video streams, broadcast to giant screens in an impressive ‘control center’ studio setup. All works on offer are now on view in an exhibition at Sotheby’s York Avenue galleries, which is open by appointment only.


Julian Dawes, Sotheby’s Head of the Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale in New York, commented: “We are excited to share the full highlights of our upcoming Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale, which is distinguished by one of the finest selections of international Surrealist and Modern art from Europe as well as Latin America ever to come to market at one time. Chief among these works is perhaps the finest painting by Wifredo Lam ever to come to market, on par with the artist’s masterpiece in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the painting has the most ambitious estimate for the artist to date. We are also especially excited about Picasso’s defining Surrealist portrait of his mistress Marie-Thérèse, which comes to auction for the first time in seven decades. Both paintings are a sign that the market for Surrealist and Modern art continues to be strong season after season, and that fresh to market works of the highest quality will always command the attention of collectors.”

Leading the sale is Pablo Picasso’s Head of a Sleeping Woman (Tête de femme endormie), a stunningly vibrant and intimate portrait of Picasso’s mistress and muse, Marie-Thérèse Walter (estimate $9/12 million). Executed in July 1934, the painting is part of a series of works in which Picasso explored Marie-Thérèse sleeping in different poses, either fully recumbent or seated. The subject of sleep and its association with the unconscious was a recurring and dominant theme among Surrealists, and the way in which Marie-Thérèse appears to lose herself in oblivion as she sleeps makes it one of Picasso’s most fertile Surrealist images.

Picasso completed this canvas at the height of the Surrealist movement, when his palette was at its most vibrant and Freudian symbolism played a defining role in the imagery of the avant-garde. But Picasso’s composition in Head of a Sleeping Woman, with the deconstructed appearance of a striped tent and sand of the beach, is undeniably a work of the artist’s individualism, as it incorporates elements of his groundbreaking Cubist compositions of the 1910s. The breadth of imagery in the work makes it clear that Marie-Thérèse inspired Picasso’s creative genius more than any other model, and her very image conjured a creative synthesis of the most radical aspects of the artist’s production.

Head of a Sleeping Woman is appearing at auction this June for the first time since 1960, and has remained in the same collection for seven decades since it was acquired by Carmen and David Lloyd Kreeger in 1962. In recent years, Sotheby’s has established new benchmarks for Picasso’s portraits of Marie-Thérèse from the 1930s, including: £49.8 million in February 2018 in London for Femme au béret et à la robe quadrillée (Marie-Thérèse Walter); $36.9 million in May 2018 in New York for Le Repos; and £27.3 million in June 2018 in London for Buste de femme de profil (Femme écrivant).

Also leading the Evening Sale is the greatest work by Wifredo Lam ever to appear at auction: Omi Obini from 1943, which is estimated to sell for $8/12 million – the highest pre-sale auction estimate ever placed on a work by the artist. The work is part of The Vanguard Spirit, a groundbreaking selection of works from one of the most distinguished private collections of Surrealist and Modern art from Latin America that will feature across our marquee sales of Impressionist & Modern and Contemporary Art this June.

Magnificent in both its scale and spectacular use of color, Omi Obini exemplifies the apex of Lam’s fully realized aesthetic vision. Following the onset of the Second World War, the artist returned to his native Cuba in 1941 after spending 17 years abroad in Europe. Working in tandem and within the circle of Andre Bretón’s Surrealists as well as other avant-garde European artists, Lam pursued the development of a uniquely stunning visual vocabulary. His return to Cuba and the country’s lush tropical landscape along with its vibrant Afro-Cuban culture drove Lam to create an inspired vision, synthesizing mystical and organic elements, all of which are fully realized in Omi Obini. A testament to its sheer brilliance, the present work is only comparable to Lam’s lauded masterwork painting The Jungle, also executed during the critical year of 1943, and currently on view as part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Sotheby’s has a distinguished history of presenting works by Wifredo Lam, having achieved three of the artist’s top auction prices. Lam’s current auction record was established in December 2017, when Sotheby’s Paris sold A Trois centimètres de le Terre from the collection of Alain & Candice Fraiberger for $5.2 million.

The Evening Sale is further distinguished by an exceptional selection of Surrealist works from René Magritte and Joan Miró, as well as one of the most important collections of Surrealist paintings ever to come to market from The Vanguard Spirit. René Magritte’s Le Sens propre (estimate $2.5/3.5 million) was painted in 1929 while the artist was living in Paris and experienced a period of immense creativity that resulted in some of his most famous works, all the while Surrealism flourished around him in the city. Le Sens propre, translated as “the literal meaning,” belongs to a series of six word paintings that exemplifies the artist’s interest in linguistic and pictorial systems of representation, as well as the arbitrary structure of language. Throughout the series, Magritte replaces objects with indeterminate shapes containing words intended to signify their identity, and these seemingly randomly chosen words subvert the everyday meanings attached to them.

The Vanguard Spirit also features outstanding works by women Surrealists, including Remedios Varo, Leonora Carrington, Leonor Fini and more. Among the group are two oils by Remedios Varo: Armonía from 1956 (estimate $2/3 million) and Microcosmos (or Determinismo) from 1959 (estimate $1.5/2 million). Exemplary of Varo’s signature fantastical imagery and complex narratives, these intricate works were realized in the final years of her short life. Imbuing a hallucinatory and meditative energy, Armonía poetically captures the artist’s pictorial universe through intricately woven symbols and a compulsive attention to detail. The result is a work that suggests Varo’s own spiritual quest through painting. In Microcosmos (or Determinismo), Varo further reveals the scientific, philosophical and spiritual principles that are central to her thinking, and the work evidences the sophistication of Varo’s singular artistic expression.

Leonora Carrington's Tuesday (estimate $700/900,000), painted in 1946, emerges from a critical decade for the artist following her relocation to Mexico in 1942 after observing the horrors of World War II in Europe, and further illustrates the development of her autonomous artistic identity after the dissolution of her relationship with the Surrealist, Max Ernst. The painting reconnects with Carrington’s Celtic roots and the mythic tales of her childhood, and saw her experimenting with decalcomania and egg tempera to create medieval, jewel-like tapestries that reflect the otherworldly quality of her complex, conceptual visual language.

Leonor Fini's Women on the Terrace from 1938 (estimate $400/600,000) embodies her painterly vision of a world in which women reign. Known for her fiercely independent and flamboyant personality—she always remained at a distance from the Surrealist group proper—Fini imbued her works with a pioneering feminist sensibility that is reflected in her portrayal of an “erotic dream world in which women are in control.” Recalling the precise stylization and restrained palette of Mannerist art that Fini greatly admired, the painting’s attention to dramatic setting and detail is also a reminder of her extensive work designing stage sets and costumes, crafting a world all her own.

Frida Kahlo’s Congreso de los pueblos por la paz (estimate $400/600,000) and Alice Rahon's Los cuatro hijos del arcoiris from 1960 (estimate $120/180,000) round out this enigmatic group.

Executed in 1959, Barbara Hepworth’s Orpheus (Maquette 2) (Version II) exquisitely captures the new sculptural territory being charted by the artist at the time, building off her earlier works to produce forms that have not only grace and balance, but also a striking feel of modernity (estimate $2.5/3.5 million). As the only work from this edition of three remaining in private hands—the other two editions are in The Tate and the Art Gallery of New South Wales—the sculpture typifies an experimental period for Hepworth that saw her include new materials such as sheet metals and string in her work. Inspired by Orpheus, the legendary poet and musician of Greek mythology, and the tragic story of his love and loss of Eurydice, the sculpture conjures references to the lyre traditionally associated with Orpheus, but also suggests the clear connection for Hepworth between the arts and science. In fact, the work was first created by Hepworth in 1956 as a commission for Mullard Ltd., an electronics company based in London, and set on a revolving base in their headquarters in Fitzrovia. The elegant sculpture will appear at auction for the first time in nearly 20 years.

The Evening Sale is further highlighted by Edvard Munch’s Stående kvinneakt (Standing Nude) (estimate $1.5/2.5 million), a lyrical portrait executed in 1916 that proved to be a critical year for the artist; Le Pin de Bertaud (estimate $4/6 million) by Paul Signac, a sumptuous and quintessentially pointillist landscape painting that captures the famous “Pin Bertaud” evergreen tree overlooking the gulf of Saint-Tropez; and André Lhote’s Nature morte dans le jardin (estimate $200/300,000), an early example of the artist’s unique pictorial style of Cubism, which was painted in 1916, and encapsulates his triumphant, spontaneous artistic vision that incorporates his early interest in Fauve coloration with Cubist ideas of form.

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