If you want to know what’s trending in the mega-billion dollar contemporary art market, take in in the auctions devoted to the category held each May and November in New York. One sure to be headline grabber next month is the sale of Christie’s recently announced Pablo Picasso’s Femme assise, robe bleue, with an estimate of $35,000,000-50,000,000! This extraordinary example of Picasso’s work will be sold at the auction house’s Impressionist and Evening Sale on May 15th.
The canvas depicts Picasso’s lover, Dora Maar, and was painted in 1939, at the start of World War II. Art expects laud the work’s unique character, distortions and tension that mark Picasso’s greatest portraits of his lover; at the same time, there is a tender sensuality along with the organic, curvaceous facial forms that provide some insight into their relationship.The picture was owned by G. David Thompson, whom the art historian Alfred H. Barr, Jr. referred to as, ‘one of the great collectors of the art of our time.’
Maar was an important Picasso muse. His affair with her came in the later years of his relationship with Marie-Therese Walter, a young, blond and athletic woman, who Picasso depicted with flowing, sensual images. Maar’s portrayal, as demonstrated by Femme assise, robe bleue, was a marked contrast. An established photographer and artist, well known in Surrealist art circles, Maar is seen as a complex, intellectual and creative character. (She was often was a sparring partner for Picasso.)
The artist often presented Maar with her signature hats and in Femme assise she is wearing a a striped purple confection that serves as a counterbalance to the severity with her features are painted. Some critics have linked the pictures of Maar specifically to the impact the societal tensions caused by the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War had on the artist. However, for many other observers it appears that Picasso, whose paintings often functioned as a barometer for his own state of mind, had found a muse who was perfectly suited to his tense depictions of that period. It was both Maar’s personality and a wider sense of unease at the world situation that Picasso managed to express in these extraordinary paintings.