Femme nue couchée

Femme nue couchée was painted in 1932 | Source: Sotheby's

Picasso’s Femme nue couchée to be Sold at Auction for an Estimated A$80m

Femme nue couchée (1932) a large-scale surrealist Pablo Picasso portrait of his teenage lover, Marie-Thérèse Walter, will go under the hammer at Sotheby’s for the first time on May 17.

Painted during a notoriously prolific period of the artist’s career, the portrait is expected to fetch more than A$80 million when it goes under the hammer next month.

Last year, a different painting of the same teenage muse, Femme assise près d’une fenêtre (Marie-Thérèse), was estimated to sell for around A$67 million but went on to make A$139.47 million at auction.

The auction of Femme nue couchée will test the market; the top five most valuable Picasso artworks have all sold for more than A$135 million and in 2010, Nude, Green Leaves and Bust sold for A$142.96 million.

Picasso met the subject of the painting, Marie-Thérèse Walter, in 1927 when she was 17 and he was 45. Twenty eight years his junior, Marie-Thérèse and Picasso embarked on an affair while the painter was still married to Russian-Ukrainian dancer, Olga Khokhlova.

Are we to paint what’s on the face, what’s inside the face, or what’s behind it?

Pablo Picasso

Walter went on to become one of Picasso’s many young female muses, and was the subject of some of Picasso’s most important and valuable paintings and sculptures. In 1935, the two had a child, Maya Widmaier-Picasso.

The surrealist Femme nue couchée depicts the subject as an undefined sea creature holding a profile of a human head with references to fertility and sexuality. Many believe this depiction is related to Walter being an accomplished swimmer and Picasso’s inability to swim at all.

According to Brooke Lampley, chair and head of global fine art sales at Sotheby’s, the piece is a “radical departure from tradition” and a “deeply lyrical ode to the artist’s unbound desire for Marie-Thérèse.”

Sotheby’s has said the unnamed seller has owned Femme nue couchée since 2006, when it was bought directly from Picasso’s descendants, who inherited it as part of his estate.

May will be a massive month for high-value art sales in New York with Andy Warhol’s Shot Sage Blue Marilyn (1964) carrying a record-high estimate of around A$270 million. If it reaches its estimate sale price, the silkscreen print will become the most expensive 20th century artwork ever sold and the second most valuable piece of art ever sold at auction behind Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi.

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