On Wednesday, November 8, Sotheby’s made waves during the auction of Emily Fisher Landau’s estate in New York. The centerpiece of the evening was Pablo Picasso’s iconic canvas, “La Femme à la montre” fetching an impressive $139.4 million. This artwork, dating back to 1932, now stands as the second most expensive piece by the renowned Spanish artist, just behind “Les Femmes d’Alger (Version O).” This historic sale has propelled the Landau estate auction to the highest ever conducted for a collection amassed by a woman.
Picasso’s Masterpiece and Its Context
“La Femme à la montre” by Picasso offers a captivating portrayal of Marie-Thérèse Walter, one of his muses, elegantly dressed, showcasing a wristwatch, seated against a blue backdrop. Created in 1932, this coincided with what Julian Dawes of Sotheby’s calls Picasso’s “annus mirabilis” a remarkable year in the artist’s career marked by newfound freedom.
Symbolic Details in the Artwork
Every detail in Picasso’s intricate and harmonious composition in “La Femme à la montre” carries profound symbolism. The watch itself could be interpreted as a vanity or a nod to the artist’s relationship with Marie-Thérèse Walter. British art historian John Richardson suggests that wristwatches held particular significance for Picasso, attributing a superstitious reverence to Marie-Thérèse for her watch. Additionally, the green checkered shirt worn by the figure could be a response to the motifs in the paintings of his rival, Henri Matisse.
Journey of the Artwork to Auction
In 1966, collector Ernst Beyeler acquired this exceptional piece from Picasso’s studio in Mougins. Two years later, Emily Fisher Landau bought it. This wealthy New York collector amassed an impressive collection over the years, with “La Femme à la montre” as the centerpiece for nearly half a century. Hanging above the fireplace in her Manhattan residence, this artwork became iconic, symbolizing Landau’s passion for art.
Impact on the Art Market
The auction of the Landau estate at Sotheby’s generated a staggering total of $406.4 million, setting a new record for a collection assembled by a woman. This remarkable sale occurs during a prosperous period for the art market, with the fall auctions in New York anticipated to yield billions of dollars.
Pablo Picasso’s “La Femme à la montre” continues to script the narrative of contemporary art, not only by establishing financial records but also by perpetuating the mystery and fascination surrounding Pablo Picasso’s life and work. As this canvas becomes the second most expensive work by the artist, it testifies to Picasso’s timeless impact on the art world, fifty years after his passing.