Now here’s an idea for a fun new sport: how about a betting pool for the next world’s record art sale? I don’t suppose anyone out there in the ether would be interested in laying any bets, but here’s mine, for the record: I’m betting that the Portrait de Angel F. de Soto, to be sold at Christie’s New York on 8 November, will set a world’s record at over $135M (including the buyer’s premium). The reason, simply put, is that in my opinion this portrait is the most important—and the most interesting, profound, and beautiful—Blue Period Picasso still remaining in private hands. Its only two rivals not yet in a museum (Femme à la Corneille and Les Deux Amies, both from 1904) are not oil paintings, and one of them is not strictly speaking a Blue Period but rather a transitional Blue and Rose Period work. And we know how the silly market undervalues a painting if it’s not an oil. Furthermore, Angel de Soto is a much more important work, and in my opinion a much more moving and beautiful painting, than Garçon à la Pipe, the Rose Period oil which at $104.1 in 2004 became the highest-price work by any artist ever sold at auction.
I realize I’m going a bit far out on a limb with this bet, since the de Soto is a “harder” image than the Garçon and not nearly as colorful. And, after all, the pre-auction estimate is only $40-60M. Plus, it takes at least two bidders to wage a bidding war—maybe there will not be two possessed souls to bid it into the stratosphere…. But I’ll stick to my bet, on the premise that there must be at least two well-heeled Picasso nuts out there who see this painting as I do.
Why $135M, you ask? Well, that’s easy. One of the more rarefied ways of proving your manhood is by buying the highest-priced painting ever. The bar was set at $135M last summer with the private sale of a Klimt. It was almost just broken at $139M with the private sale of Picasso’s La Reve, until its owner, Steve Wynn, put his elbow through the canvas and canceled the sale. (Not that he needed the money. Maybe he was thinking that another good way of proving your manhood is by selling the world’s highest-priced painting. Or maybe he was rightfully incensed that a Picasso was no longer the highest priced painting to ever change hands….)
Let the bidding begin!