Sotheby’s Auction Features Three Pablo Picasso Prints

Sotheby’s London will offer an exceptional Private European Collection of Prints, on 16 September 2010. The collection consists of masterworks by Pablo Picasso, the most important and innovative printmaker of the Modern Period who has been credited with the creation of some of the most significant works in the medium’s five hundred year history. Together, the 57 lots are estimated to realise in excess of £2.5 million.

Three of Picasso’s greatest prints will spearhead the sale and these are Le Repas Frugal, La Minotauromachie and La Femme Qui Pleure. Each of these works is singularly important in the development of Picasso’s graphic oeuvre, reflecting key themes and demonstrating a mastery of technique that is unsurpassed. Throughout his life, Picasso restlessly explored the medium of the print, employing many techniques, including lithography, linocut, etching and drypoint. The rarity of these prints in a single sale alongside further examples of virtually every technique and style of Picasso’s printmaking represents an unparalled event in the international auction market.

James Mackie, Senior Expert, Sotheby’s London Prints Department, said: “We are thrilled to be selling this superb collection of works by Pablo Picasso, which is characterised by a range and quality, the like of which has not been seen at auction for many years. We are particularly excited to have the opportunity to offer what are certainly Picasso’s most important and ground-breaking graphic works. This unique event will undoubtedly create great interest as we tour the highlights around the world.”

Le Repas Frugal, an etching from 1904, from the deluxe edition on Japan paper, comes to the market with an estimate of £120,000-180,000. From the Saltimbanques suite, it was executed during Picasso’s Blue Period and is not only a masterpiece of 20th century printmaking, but also the quintessential Blue Period image. The subject powerfully recalls the artist’s youth living in modest dwellings in the artistic quarter of Montmartre. A man and a woman sit at a table with a bottle of wine and meager provisions, the themes of poverty and alcoholism imparting a startling realism to the scene.

According to John Richardson, Picasso’s biographer, it is a work that links Picasso’s Spanish past with his French future, in that it was conceived in Barcelona and executed in Paris. Le Repas Frugal is Picasso’s first major engraving and “the progenitor of what is arguably the greatest graphic oeuvre in the history of art”. Picasso had been introduced to printmaking by the artist Ricard Canals and he assimilated the etching technique exceedingly quickly. The technique employed by the artist in the present work displays a marvelous dexterity and is an indication of the radical innovations Picasso would introduce into a field he did more to transform than any other artist.

Over thirty years later, in 1935, Picasso produced another milestone in his printmaking oeuvre. La Minotauromachie is considered to be the artist’s masterpiece of printmaking and the impression offered for sale by Sotheby’s is estimated at £400,000-600,000. Nearly all recorded impressions of this subject are now in public or permanent collections round the world and in the last thirty years, only three have appeared at auction. The content of this print has been subjected to many varied interpretations. The minotaur is often seen as the artist’s alter-ego and the pregnant woman, lying across the horse, bears a striking resemblance to his young mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter. The work was executed at a critical time in Picasso’s marriage to Olga Picasso. It is a provocative scene, full of symbolic content. The main protagonists are a young girl with a candle and bouquet of flowers, and the huge minotaur, a mythical creature with bull’s head and human body. A wounded female bullfighter is flung atop a frightened, lacerated horse that bears its teeth in a visceral snarl. Two girls with doves, the symbol of peace, peer from a window while a bearded Christ-like figure of a man on a ladder – with the face of Picasso – appears at the left. On the horizon, a small sailboat can be glimpsed. Picasso had ceased to paint at this turbulent point in his life and one can deduce that the subject of this work constitutes a deeply private mythology unique to the artist. His marriage to Olga in turmoil, Picasso was feeling ambivalent about his mistress being pregnant, and the minotaur, the bull-man, is clearly in a violent and disturbing stand-off with the pregnant bullfighter. This seminal print combines Picasso’s central themes of the minotaur, the bullfight, the Crucifixion, love, death, destruction and creativity. The imagery is prophetic of the Spanish Civil War, which began in 1936, a year after this print was executed. La Minotauromachie served as a visual springboard for the epic Guernica, Picasso’s famous 1937 mural about the conflict, which employs some of the same imagery as seen here.

La Femme Qui Pleure, an etching and aquatint from 1937, signed in pencil and numbered 14/15, is the final work in the triumvirate of important prints from the collection. Estimated at £500,000-700,000, it is a further iconic image from the artist’s oeuvre and was created as one of the main studies for Guernica, the huge mural commissioned for the Spanish Pavilion of the 1937 International Exhibition in Paris. Picasso chose to focus on the horror of the bombing, at General Franco’s request, of the small Basque town of Guernica. Some 1700 people were killed or wounded. The weeping woman, with her mouth fixed in a silent scream of pain, is a motif intended to convey the plight of the Spanish victims. Picasso continued to explore this motif for almost six months after completing the mural, and of the subjects Picasso explored around the theme of Guernica, the most frequently depicted image is that of a single female head bearing an expression of anguish and engulfed in tears. He experimented with this motif in several prints, and most famously, in a painting in the Tate Collections. It is a highly stylised portrait of a grief-stricken woman, with a complex and angular structure. He used as his model Dora Maar, the Surrealist photographer he met during the winter of 1935- 36. The two became lovers until the early 1940s, through the Spanish Civil War and the outbreak of World War II. Maar was active in leftist political causes and well-known for her volatile personality – Picasso called her his “weeping woman”. Although this image is associated with Maar, it may also reference his former lover Marie Thérèse Walter and Olga Picasso, to whom he was still married. Only three impressions of La Femme Qui Pleure have come to auction in the last twenty years.

Pablo Picasso, La Femme Qui Pleure.
Est. £500,000-700,000. Photo: Sotheby’s