A Steal and a Half

I just have to write this. Amid typically stratospheric prices for good Picassos, someone just walked away with a real steal (that is, if you can call anything denominated in the millions a steal).  Picasso’s great neoclassical/sculptural painting, Baigneur et baigneuses (1920-21) just sold at Sotheby’s London, near its low estimate, for $5.8M. Not only that, but it had been bought in at a pre-auction estimate of $8-12M at Sotheby’s NY in 2004. I failed to see why it didn’t exceed expectations back in 2004, not to mention this time around. To my mind it is one of the nicest and most important oils of its genre still in circulation. If it looks familiar to you but you were not at either Sotheby’s showroom, perhaps you saw it in the recent traveling exhibit “Picasso and American Art”, which graced the Whitney, the San Francisco MOMA and the Walker in Minneapolis. (Note that the colors in this photo are muted, much less vibrant and blue than the actual painting.)

The painting that turned out not to be quite the steal I had expected was the following late Picasso, titled Tête d’homme (1968):

1968 Tête dhomme 300W.jpg

This lovely, largish (73 cm) portrait of a musketeer had a low pre-auction estimate, only in part due to repairs that it had withstood, repairs which were however indiscernible to the naked eye and therefore didn’t at all detract from the force and beauty of this masterful portrait. The low estimate, including buyer’s premium, was around a million US bucks, which really would have been a steal. Very little interest had been expressed in it prior to the auction, but it nonetheless went for around $1.7M, not quite the steal I had hoped for, but still not much for this handsome jaw-dropper. Not much at all, considering that these late Picassos have been selling for up to 10 times that and are no nicer (if at times up to twice the size).  It was certainly far nicer than the two homely musketeers sold down the street the very next evening for around $2 and 2.5 million, respectively (lots 75 and 77).