Picasso's Breakthrough Masterpiece Comes to Auction

LONDON.- Cubism is considered to be Pablo Picasso’s most important contribution to Modern art, and Femme assise of 1909 is one of the artist’s greatest Cubist portraits.

It comes from the series of canvases that revolutionized Picasso’s working methods and established his path to Cubism, and will lead Sotheby’s June Impressionist & Modern Art Evening sale in London (estimate upon request).

The painting will be on view in Sotheby’s New York galleries from 16 May, in Hong Kong from 26-30 May and in London from 10 June, prior to the Evening Auction on 21 June 2016. Bidding begins at $40 million, and the final sales price could easily be double that amount.

Femme assise was painted in the summer of 1909 when Picasso, age 28, travelled to his native Spain to the remote village of Horta de Ebro which could only be accessed by mule.

Here Picasso created a series of canvases based on the features of his lover Fernande Olivier, over a period described as ‘the most crucial and productive’** in the artist’s career.

Following his major breakthrough in 1907 with Les Demoiselles d’Avignon – considered the single most influential painting created in the 20th Century - Picasso continued on his path towards a purer pictorial language of Cubism.

This progression, seen to spectacular effect in Femme assise, radically redefined the representation of form.

Femme assise is among a small number of portraits from this series remaining in private hands, with most of the others held in prestigious international museum collections, including Tate Modern, London; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; The State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg; Hiroshima Museum of Art, Hiroshima; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Pola Museum of Art Kanagawa.

Last sold at auction in 1973 at Sotheby’s in London, Femme assise has remained in a private collection for over forty years, during which time it has featured in some of the most important international exhibitions of Picasso’s work, including key exhibitions on Cubism: Picasso and Braque: Pioneering Cubism at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1989; Picasso: Sculptor/Painter at Tate Gallery, London, in 1994; and Picasso: The Cubist Portraits of Fernande Olivier at the National Gallery of Art, Washington in 2003-04.

Helena Newman, Global Co-Head of Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Department, said:

“Cubism not only underpins Picasso’s entire creative output but also marks a defining moment in Modern Art. Whilst major paintings from other key periods by Picasso have appeared on the market in recent years*, it has been decades since a Cubist painting of this calibre has been offered at auction, since virtually all the significant works of this period are in international museums and institutions. Femme assise, painted in 1909, is one of the artist’s greatest masterpieces to be sold in a generation.”