If there is any solid takeaway from the recent round of evening auctions first in London and now the ones starting in New York, it would certainly fall on the stable market of Pablo Picasso.
This year, till now, 60 of the Spanish master’s works dating from 1908 to 1970 were auctioned at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips, collectively realising £163,439,750 (or $227.8m, including fees).
The offerings ranged from the prime-period cover lot at Sotheby’s, Femme au beret et à la robe quadrille (Marie-Thérèse Walter) (1937), which made a justifiably juicy £49.9m, to Christie’s barely boisterous Mousquetaire et nu assis (1967), which just squeaked past its third-party backed bid at £13.7m. Until two days ago, when the most-wanted Picasso’s masterpiece from the early Rose period (1905),“Young Girl with a Flower Basket” , part of the prestigious Rockefeller collection, estimated at $100 million (anyway the the highest presale value among more than 1,500 lots of the Peggy and David Rockefeller collection) fetched $115 million at Christie’s auction on Tuesday night.
Experts say this year’s Picasso rush has several key drivers, including a blockbuster show at the Tate Modern; an unusually high number of once-in-a-generation works consigned at the same time; and a surge in interest in the artist from cash-rich Asian buyers. This perfect storm could bring 2018 Picasso sales to more than half a billion dollars just five months into the year.
However, the season’s surfeit of Picassos is not an unprecedented number: we can recall, for example, the sale of the Stanley J. Seeger collection of works by Picasso, held at Sotheby’s in November 1993, which brought $32m for 88 paintings and works on paper.
Nevertheless, this year simultaneous appearance of many Picasso real masterpieces, as in last London Sale the two valuable Marie-Thérèse-themed works (at Sotheby’s and Phillips, suggests high confidence on the part of auction houses and consignors. Actually, it is not misplaced: since 1998, the average price for an evening-sale Picasso has gone from around $1.2m to around $7.5m.
One expert described to Artsy the factors that make Picasso the ideal name for today’s polarised yet democratising market. “He has the reputation, the recognition and legacy, which appeals to both new and established collectors from all over the world. His paintings have a regular supply to auction, which helps to keep momentum and confidence in his market, and uniquely, three of his paintings have sold at auction for over $100m.”
However, there are also different opinion on this current trend for the artist market. For instance, according to Thomas Seydoux of Geneva-based Seydoux & Associés Fine Art and a former head of Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art in Europe, the Picasso market can’t be broadened any further.
He explained: “Picasso is already, and by far,the most successful artist at auction and on the private market in terms of value, volume and media, and for works spanning from 1900 all the way to 1973. He’s already unique, and that’s probably why the mysterious buyer chose him in the first place.
In May, Christie’s is also offering Le Marin (1943), which was once part of the fabled collection of Victor and Sally Ganz and is being sold by Steve Wynn, and it is estimated to sell in the range of $70 million. While Sotheby’s for Impressionist sale in London on June 19, has already announced Buste de femme de profil. Femme écrivant (1932), a portrait of Picasso’s muse Marie-Thérèse Walter painted while he was still married to his wife Olga, carries an estimate in the region of $45 million.
“People see Picasso as the great name in 20th-century art,” said Carter. “And if you can buy the best examples within his work, you’re never going to regret it.
Accordingly, the 2018 Picasso market bonanza is a many-headed artist, featuring different works from many different eras. The record-breaking work at Sotheby’s in London was a masterpiece of the Marie-Thérèse canon, while Le Marin, the work consigned by Steve Wynn that’s selling at Christie’s New York in May, is a rare self-portrait painted while living in occupied France, in fear of imprisonment or death. And the work from Rockefeller’s collection was one of just a few exceptional Rose Period pieces left in private hands, and directly from Stein’s collection.
“I wish I could say this is by design, that all these masterpieces are coming out, but it was very fortuitous there was the number of masterpieces across various periods,” one expert said. “And on that level, there’s a huge appetite for these masterpiece works.”
So, let’s see if the “Picasso Mania” still go further or will blow up, just to later keel over on new higher, but stable quotations.