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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!


A Tribute to Picasso on his 125th Birthday

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The 25th of this month marks Picasso’s 125th birthday. Although Picasso’s work was largely inspired by his famously extreme joie de vivre, his long life also spanned and bore witness to the principal horrors of the last century. Yet in the 33 years since his death, the world has become a bleaker and more uncertain place. Picasso immeasurably enriched our lives with the unutterable beauty and poignancy of his art, but, as he said, “Painting is not made to decorate apartments; it’s an offensive and defensive weapon against the enemy.”

Those of us in Picasso’s thrall would do well to remember that his work is not merely decorative, that it rises above ornament to celebrate all that is beautiful and right with our world, and to shout out all that is horrible and wrong. In 1950, at one of the Congresses of Intellectuals for Peace in which he participated, Picasso gave a short speech ending with a distillation of his entire life into a single, short sentence, “I stand for life against death; I stand for peace against war.” With his unquenchable thirst for life, Picasso would undoubtedly prefer to have stuck around to celebrate his birthday with us. Short of that, I feel certain that this is how he would like us to remember him and his art. So in this special month, let us kindly remember the man who has touched us so deeply and who has forever transformed the way we see our world. May we transform his vision into peace.