February 16, 2006

Picasso painting could fetch $50 million: Sotheby’s

By Scott Malone

NEW YORK -- A Pablo Picasso portrait of his mistress Dora Maar that has been in private hands for more than 40 years will be auctioned in New York in May and could raise more than $50 million, Sotheby's said on Thursday.

"The portraits of Dora Maar are among the most popular and most important works that he did," Charles Moffett, vice chairman of Sotheby's, told Reuters. "For the better part of a decade she was his muse, his model, his intellectual companion, his intellectual sparring partner."

The painting, "Dora Maar au chat," shows Maar seated in a chair with a small black cat perched behind her right shoulder. Moffett said the painting stands out for its vivid colors and its clawlike depiction of Maar's hands.

"They reflect the times. This is 1941. Europe is sliding very quickly into war, France is about to be occupied by Germany, and it was a time of enormous anxiety, tension, fear," Moffett said.

For the past 40 years, the painting has been owned by a family that does not want to be identified, Moffett said.

Sotheby's said it sold another portrait of Maar, "Woman Seated in a Garden," for $49 million in 1999. The record price for a painting at auction was $104.1 million for Picasso's "Garcon a la Pipe" in 2004.

The painting will be auctioned on May 3, the day after another sale featuring 19 recently unearthed watercolors by William Blake, illustrating an 18th-century poem by Robert Blair titled "The Grave."

Sotheby's estimated those paintings, which will be sold individually, could bring in $12 million to $17.5 million in total in the May 2 auction.

The auction house said the 1805 paintings had disappeared in 1836 and were unearthed in a bookshop in Scotland in 2001.

The paintings were commissioned to illustrate an edition of the poem, but were ultimately not used in the volume.

A 20th painting that was separated from the rest has been in the collection of the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut, since 1975, a spokeswoman there said.

Sotheby's Holdings Inc. plans to exhibit the Blake paintings in London, Paris, Chicago, New York and Beverly Hills, California, before the auction.