Pablo Picasso Les femmes d’Alger (Version O), oil on canvas painting, Painted on February 14, 1955. Estimate: in the region of US$140 million © 2015 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
LONDON—Pablo Picasso’s famous painting titled Les femmes d’Alger (Version “O”) is generating a lot of frenzy in the global art market. Valued at $140 million, the iconic painting is at the center of Christie’s Spring Sale to be held on May 11, 2015, at Christie’s Rockefeller Center in New York. The Spring sale runs through May 19. It will include Looking Forward to the Past Evening Sale, Post-War & Contemporary Art Sale, and Impressionist And Modern Art Sale. The auction concludes with the online only auction of Picasso Ceramics, and Post-War & Contemporary Art.
Les femmes d’Alger (Version “O”) is one of the star lots at Christie’s unique art auction, which combines Contemporary and Modern Art spanning 100 years. Looking Forward to the Past follows in the tradition of many of the great curated auctions Christie’s has organized in New York and London in recent years. This special auction kicks off Christie’s Post War Contemporary Art sale that is expected to bring record auction prices.
Loic Gouzer of Christie’s Postwar and Contemporary Art department is at the center of Looking Forward to the Past. Featuring 25 masterpieces, the auction is expected to attract seasoned and emerging collectors from across the globe. The excitement about the Looking Forward to the Past auction is not just because of the masterpieces in the art sale, but also because of Mr. Gouzer’s reputation in the art auction world. Mr. Gouzer was at the center of the highly publicized auction If I Live I’ll See You Tuesday held last May. The auction featured 35 works by celebrated contemporary artists, including Christopher Wool, Richard Prince, Jeff Koons and John Baldessari among several others. If I Live I’ll See You Tuesday realized $134.6 million.
For many collectors, the reappearance of Picasso’s Les femmes d’Alger (Version “O”) in the art market is a reason to rejoice. For a while now, art collectors and auction houses have been questing the emergence of important masterpieces by famous artists in the art market place. “From the auctioneer’s 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, Christie’s Global President.
The elation about the reemergence of this celebrated Picasso painting transcends art collectors. At Christie’s, there is subdued excitement about this famous painting. Everything is been done to publicize the auction and bring attention to the notable painting. That excitement is evident in Olivier Camu’s description of the painting. Camu, who is the Deputy Chairman, Impressionist and Modern Art at Christie’s, notes:
Les femmes d’Alger, (Version “O”) is the culmination of a herculean project which Picasso started after Matisse’s 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 Picasso’s lifelong obsessions, it is a milestone in Picasso’s oeuvre and one of his most famous masterpieces, together with Les demoiselles d’Avignon, 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.
Pablo Picasso’s Les femmes d’Alger (Version “O”) is a majestic, vibrantly-hued painting that has retained its freshness through the years. For Mr. Gouzer, this could be a major selling point. “In today’s fast-paced world, it is remarkable to think that Picasso’s Les femmes d’Alger exhibits as much freshness of perspective and approach as it did when it was painted,” he declared.
Inspired by French master Eugene Delacroix’s 1834 Oriental masterpiece Women of Algiers, Les femmes d’Alger (Version “O”) is the final and most highly finished work from Picasso’s 1954-55 series in which the artist looked back to the 19th century at the work of art masters he admired for inspiration.
Not many of Picasso’s paintings have come to the market lately. Les femmes d’Alger (Version “O”) last appeared in the market in November 1997 when it sold for 31.9 million at Christie’s auction. The painting was part of the legendary record-breaking sale of the Collection of Victor and Sally Ganz. It was bought by London dealer Libby Howie on behalf of a client.
Beyond the outstanding quality of Les femmes d’Alger (Version “O”), 1955, provenance is another reason many art collectors are getting ready to do whatever is possible to acquire the painting for their collections. Les femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’) has featured prominently in major Picasso retrospectives all over the world, including at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, The National Gallery in London, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and art other art institutions.
The Ganzs were the original owners of the full 15-painting series Les femmes d’Alger that included Les femmes d’Alger (Version “O”). They bought the paintings directly from Picasso’s dealer Daniel Kahnweiler, who had insisted that one buyer purchase the entire group. Victor and Sally Ganz acquired the series on June 6, 1956, for $212,500.
In later years, the Ganzs sold ten of the Les femmes d’Alger to the Saidenberg Gallery, keeping Versions C, H, K, M and O for themselves. Following the death of Victor Ganz in 1988, however, Version C was sold, and the remaining four, including Version “O”, were sold as individual lots at the 1997 sale at Christie’s New York. The collection totaled $206.5 million, setting an auction record for any single-owner collection at the time. Les femmes d’Alger (Version “O”) was sold for $31,902,500, more than twice its high estimate of $12 million.
There is great anticipation at Christie’s to break the art auction world record that the auction house set in 2014 with the sale of Picasso’s Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust, 1932. The painting sold for $106.5 million. Although the $140 million Christie’s has placed on Les femmes d’Alger (Version “O”) is one of the highest value ever put on an artwork at auction, the auction house is determined to make it a historic sale. To that effect, Christie’s has guaranteed the seller of the painting for an undisclosed amount. It is uncertain who is funding the guarantee for the iconic painting.
Christie’s is not new to breaking art auction records. In November 2013, the auction house sold Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucian Freud for $142.4, 000 million, setting the new world auction record for any work of art ever sold at auction. It was estimated for $85 million.
With the reappearance of Picasso’s masterpieces in the art market, there is high hope that 2015 will be another record year for Christie’s auction house. In 2014, Christie’s achieved global sales of $1.2 billion for Impressionist and Modern Art, an increase of 19% over the previous year. The leader for Post-War and Contemporary Art worldwide, Christie’s has continued to make great strides in this auction category. With the increase in demand and high prices paid for works by late 20th and early 21st century artists, Christie’s has continued to foster new ways of acquiring masterpieces of these periods. In November 2012 Contemporary Sale in New York, the auction house realized $852.9 million.
Although all focus for the Spring art sale is on Les femmes d’Alger (Version “O”), it is not the only painting that is generating a lot of excitement for Christie’s Spring auction. The auction will also feature other important paintings including Claude Monet’s majestic Le Parlement, Soleil Couchant (estimate: $35-45 million) and Les Meules à Giverny (estimate $12-18 million). Mark Rothko’s No 36 (Black Stripes), an oil on canvas painting estimated at $ 30-50 million is another point of focus at the auction. Also included the Spring sales is Piet Mondrian’s Composition No. III (Composition with Red, Blue, Yellow and Black). The oil on canvas painting is estimated at $15-25 million. Other artists whose works will feature prominently in the art auction include Egon Schiele and Martin Kippenberger among many others.
While Picasso’s iconic painting continues to be the center of attention for the Christies Spring sale, there is no doubt that art collectors have so much to treasure about this auction. With the inclusion of masterpieces by other famous artists from the Post-War era to the Impressionist and Modern Art, there is so much collectors have to look forward.
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