A Cubist record: This early Picasso painting has made history by selling for $63.4M

Story highlights

  • Sotheby's London has sold Picasso's Femme Assise (1909)
  • The painting is one of Picasso's earliest Cubist works

(CNN)Picasso's Cubist works line the white walls of every major international art museum, from the Museum of Modern Art in New York to the Tate Modern in London.

Now, one of his most seminal works has smashed an auction record.
    Femme Assise (1909), one of the artist's earliest Cubist paintings, has sold for £43.2 million ($63.4 million) at a Sotheby's London auction on June 21, 2016, almost $20 million more than the original estimate.
    Described by Sotheby's as "the greatest Cubist painting to come to the market in decades," it has broken the record for the highest price for a Cubist work at any auction.
    Experts say it depicts Picasso's lover and frequent model Fernande Olivier.
    "It is extremely rare," said Helena Newman, Sotheby's global co-head of Impressionist and Modern Art department, ahead of the auction.
    "The vast, vast, vast majority of the works of the Cubist period of this importance went into museums of the world many years ago because Picasso's Cubism has for many decades been considered one of the most important, groundbreaking periods -- not just for him, but for the whole of what was to come in terms of modern art."

    A seminal work

    Cubism, which sees subjects broken down into geometric shapes and reassembled in an abstract way, is considered one of the most revolutionary movements in contemporary art.
    Taking root in the early 20th century, it is considered a precursor for contemporary abstract art.
    The painting's former owner, whose identity has not been disclosed, first bought Femme Assise at a 1973 Sotheby's auction for £340,000 ($486,000).
    Although this is not as high as the price of Picasso's record-setting Femmes d'Alger, which sold for $149 million in 2015, it has not only claimed the title for highest price for any Cubist work at auction, but also the highest price for a painting sold in London since 2010, when Alberto Giacometti's Walking Man I sold for £65 million ($95 million.)
    "There hasn't been a painting of this importance at auction in potentially a generation," Newman says.
    "I think what people are excited about is that sense of being upfront with Picasso at the very moment of his creative process. It's that sense of the potential of being able to have a piece of that moment of what defines Picasso."