One of Pablo Picasso’s masterpieces, “Woman with a Watch,” was sold at auction Wednesday night for $139.3 million by Sotheby’s in New York, the second-highest price ever achieved for the artist.
The 1932 painting depicts one of the Spanish artist’s companions and muses, the French painter Marie-Therese Walter, and had been valued at over $120 million before going on the block, according to Sotheby’s.
“Femme a la montre” is part of Sotheby’s special sale this week of the collection of New York arts patron Emily Fisher Landau, who died this year at the age of 102.
Julian Dawes, the house’s head of impressionist and modern art, called the Picasso canvas — which hung in Landau’s living room — “a masterpiece by every measure.”
“Painted in 1932 — Picasso’s ‘annus mirabilis’ — it is full of joyful, passionate abandon yet at the same time it is utterly considered and resolved,” he said.
Walter was considered Picasso’s “golden muse”, and features in another of his works on the block on Thursday at Christie’s: “Femme endormie,” or “Sleeping Woman”, estimated to sell for $25-$35 million.
She also featured in “Femme assise pres d’une fenetre (Marie-Therese)”, which was sold in 2021 for $103.4 million.
Walter met Picasso in Paris in 1927, when she was just 17 and the Spanish artist was still married to Russian-Ukrainian ballet dancer Olga Khokhlova. The couple had a daughter together who died last year.
Another Picasso from 1932 was sold for $106 million in 2010.
The record sale of a Picasso was of “The Women of Algiers (Version O),” a 1955 oil painting sold for $179.4 million.
When it was sold at Christie’s New York in 2015, it was also the record for any work of art sold at auction.
It was dethroned in November 2017 by the sale of “Salvator Mundi” attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, which went under the hammer for $450 million and holds the record to this day.
Fifty years after his death in 1973 aged 91, Picasso remains one of the most influential artists of the modern world, and is often hailed as a dynamic and creative genius.
But in the wake of the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault, his reputation has been tarnished by accusations that he exerted a violent hold over the women who shared his life and inspired his art.
Sotheby’s is hoping to net around $400 million in sales for pieces from Landau’s collection, which also includes works by Jasper Johns, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko and Andy Warhol.
Auction houses are enjoying a healthy art and luxury goods market, driven by China and showing no signs of a slowdown, said Kelsey Reed Leonard, head of contemporary art sales at Sotheby’s.
Against a backdrop of wars in Ukraine and Gaza, as well as worldwide inflation, the two titans of the sector — Sotheby’s and Christie’s — will be moving a host of big-ticket lots in the autumn sales, though they may still have a hard time topping last year, when total sales hit a record $16 billion.