Pablo Picasso’s 1932 painting Femme a la montre on Wednesday sold for more than US$139 million at a Sotheby’s New York auction, making it the most valuable work of art sold globally at an auction this year.
The work is a standout of New York City’s fall art auction season, seen by many as a bellwether for the art market. It went under the gavel as part of an estimated US$400 million sale of the collection of late philanthropist Emily Fisher Landau.
The nine-digit price made it the second most-expensive Picasso painting to sell at an auction, behind Les femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’), which fetched US$179.3 million, including a buyer’s premium, at Christie’s in 2015.
Femme a la montre, which translates from French to “Woman with a Watch,” is a portrait of the artist’s lover Marie-Therese Walter seated in a throne-like chair against a blue background. The titular wristwatch is a motif also seen in artwork Picasso made of his wife, Russian-Ukrainian ballerina Olga Khokhlova.
Walter was 17 years old when she met the 45-year-old Picasso in Paris, and the two later entered into a secret relationship while he was still married to Khokhlova. Walter became his subject for a number of artworks, including the 1932 painting Femme nue couchee, which sold for US$67.5 million at an auction last year.
Picasso painted Femme a la montre at a pivotal year in his career. At 50 years old, he had already achieved widespread fame by 1932, but ramped up his ambitions to silence critics who questioned “whether he was an artist of the past rather than the future,” the Tate Modern museum said.
Fisher Landau bought the painting from New York’s Pace Gallery in 1968 and kept it above the mantle in her Manhattan apartment, according to Sotheby’s.
An anonymous buyer beat out two other bidders for the painting.
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