(Blue) Chips off the Old Block: 2012 Spring Auction Review

Though the year in art has just begun, I feel nonetheless confident in saying that the best buy of the year has already occurred. Le repos (The Repose, 1932), a serene portrait of Marie-Thérèse sleeping on her hands, is the finest artwork I’ve seen all year and one of my very favorite portraits of this model:

Smallish (46 cm), yes, but I for one don’t judge artworks by their size, unlike so many of the real estate speculators in the art market. This gem sold at Christie’s NY in May for just under $10M on an estimate of $5-7M. (It last sold in the same room a decade earlier for just over $3M, and before that was bought in at Christie’s London in 2001.) At the risk of losing all credibility, I prefer this simpler and much smaller work to the world’s auction record sale, the contemporaneous  Nude, Green Leaves and Bust.

Another Marie-Thérèse from the same sale also took my breath away, a full-sized 1933 watercolor and pen and ink entitled Sur la terrasse, which brought in $1,594,500 on an estimate of $5-700,000:

Here Picasso is imagining that the sculpture he’s sketched would one day grace a town plaza.  This in fact came to pass, but not with any of the bronzes of Marie-Thérèse that this drawing resembles. Rather, Picasso dedicated a nice but much less amazing bronze of Dora Maar to the memory of Apollinaire, which now commands a church plaza at Blvd. St. Germain des Prés, and also presented the coastal town of Vallauris with his 1943 L’homme au mouton (Man with Sheep), in which town square it now presides. Picasso had preferred to dedicate one of the Marie-Thérèse bronzes to the memory of his good friend, but the memorial committee considered them too radical (see Picasso in Exile ). Though Picasso didn’t get his wish, in this drawing he imagines how his bronze might have looked in a town square, not in Paris but in the French Riviera, where he and Marie-Thérèse summered together, often furtively while dodging his first wife Olga. I find the sketchy manner very charming with which he rendered her sculpted head and the trees and buildings, in a dreamy village by the sea.