Picasso masterpiece heads to UAE for first exhibition outside of US in over 50 years

Picasso’s monumental 1932 Portrait of Marie-Thérèse Walter will be on view at Sotheby’s Dubai in the DIFC on September 25- 26, the highest value painting ever to be brought to the Middle East by an auction house.

The masterpiece– estimated in value at over $120 million — is from the groundbreaking collection of patron of the arts Emily Fisher Landau, and had been hanging in her living room for half a century, and will be offered at auction at Sotheby’s in New York from November 8-9.

“It is a true privilege to have a masterpiece of this significance, by one of the world’s most well-known and well-loved artists, unveiled in the UAE as the first stop on its world tour. One of the greatest works of modern art, we have ever brought to auction, it is the perfect artwork to showcase and continue our commitment to bringing the best of art and culture to the region,” says Katia Nounou Boueiz, Head of Sotheby’s UAE.

“In 2020, we exhibited a painting by Botticelli, which was estimated in excess of $80 million, and at the time made headlines as the highest value painting ever to be brought to the Middle East by an auction house. Since then, we have exhibited some wonderful works by the likes of Boetti, Kandinsky, Warhol and more. The appearance of this Picasso on our walls in Dubai will now overtake the record set by the Botticelli, and also marks the first time a painting of this caliber by the artist has ever been exhibited anywhere in the UAE.”

Picasso’s ‘Femme à la Montre, ’ 1932, estimated in excess of $120 million. (Supplied)
Picasso’s ‘Femme à la Montre, ’ 1932, estimated in excess of $120 million. (Supplied)

Emily Fisher Landau bought this painting in 1968, right at the start of her collecting journey. This major acquisition was a bold move for a new collector, but she knew that it was not the sort of work she should pass up: she bought it on the spot from Pace Gallery, and it remained the keystone of her collection for more than five decades, hanging above the mantlepiece in her New York home.

The work’s significance within Picasso’s oeuvre cannot be overstated: Its date, scale, subject, vibrancy and provenance are all exceptional.
Julian Dawes, Sotheby’s Head of Impressionist & Modern Art, Americas, said: “One of Emily Fisher Landau’s first major purchases, Picasso’s Femme à la Montre is 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. Its bold primary colors literally sing from the five-foot-tall-canvas. The Emily Fisher Landau Picasso is not just a stand-out work from a stand-out year, it is a definitive work in the story of Western art.”

No other 1932 Picasso of remotely similar importance has appeared on the auction market since 2010, when ‘Nude, Green Leaves and Bust’ from the estate of Sidney F Brody established a new record price for any work of art ever sold at auction.

The record for an artwork by Picasso at auction was set in 2015 at $179 million.

Golden muse

Depicting Marie-Thérèse Walter, the artist’s ‘golden muse’ and the subject of many of his most accomplished portraits, it dates from 1932, a year of such importance that an entire museum exhibition was dedicated to it (Tate Modern & Musée Picasso Paris 2018).

In addition to this, it has another important distinguishing feature: the watch that the artist has so conspicuously placed on Marie-Thérèse’s wrist.

Among the many paintings Picasso created in his long and varied career, only three, including this, are known to feature a watch, yet watches were objects of immense significance to him. Picasso had a deep passion for exceptional timepieces and owned three of the greatest watches in existence, by Rolex, Jaeger-LeCoultre, and Patek Philippe. Here, Marie-Thérèse wears one of his treasured watches. At the same time, the presence of the watch nods to the centuries-old tradition of Vanitas painting, with its references to the transience of both love and life.

Picasso’s first encounter with his muse, and their subsequent love affair, is legendary. They first met outside the Galeries Lafayette in Paris one day in 1927, a brief exchange marking the start of a passionate relationship that was kept a secret for years. This work was painted in August, soon after the close of his first, large-scale retrospective, at a moment when – finally free from the stresses of the exhibition and the secrecy around his relationship – he was able to give full painterly voice to his love for her.

Life and legacy of a collector

Born in 1920 and raised in Upper Manhattan, Emily Fisher Landau loved art right from the outset. Her collection began in 1968, with the purchase of an Alexander Calder mobile – a work which, with typical ingenuity and flair, she hung over her bathtub. In the spring of the following year, armed robbers disguised as air conditioning repair men bluffed their way into her apartment, broke into the safe and made away many precious jewels.

It was a devastating moment, but the start of a new chapter: Armed with this substantial insurance pay out, Fisher Landau set about swiftly replacing her jewels with art, acquiring major works by Modern masters Henri Matisse, Piet Mondrian, Paul Klee, and others.

At the same time, she was introduced to the vibrant New York art scene of the moment. Through them, she met Louise Nevelson, Robert Rauschenberg, Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol, and other prominent artists of their time – visiting their studios, engaging with their lives and work, and acquiring, as they were created, those pieces that spoke strongest to her intuitive eye.

This autumn, following a series of international exhibitions that will allow audiences around the world to see for the first time the extraordinary range and quality of the collection, some 120 exceptional works, estimated to bring in excess of $400 million, will be offered for sale at Sotheby’s New York, in two dedicated auctions, on November 8-9, which are destined to be a historic moment for the art market.

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