Pablo Picasso’s most curious painting of his lover Marie-Thérèse Walter, in which she appears as a tentacled sea creature, has sold for $67.5 million, over the estimate of $60 million.
“Femme nue couchée” (“Naked woman reclining”), made its auction debut Tuesday at a Sotheby’s sale in New York. Ahead of the sale, the auction house said that the anonymous seller acquired the work directly from Picasso’s descendants in 2006 after it had been in the artist’s estate for decades. Picasso died in 1973, and Walter in 1977.
The work, painted in April 1932 during a prolific period for the famed modern artist, was one of many that he made of Walter, who became the mother of his second child, Maya. When they met, she was 17 years old and he was 45 and married to the Russian-Ukrainian dancer Olga Khokhlova.
Picasso’s portraits of Walter have become highly sought-after, with his other 1932 works “Femme assise près d’une fenêtre (Marie-Thérèse),” selling for $103.41 million last year, and “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust,” selling for a record-breaking $106.5 million in 2010.
The pair’s rocky romance has been idealized too through exhibitions such as Gagosian’s “Picasso and Marie-Thérèse: L’amour fou” in 2011, which featured around 80 paintings, sculptures, drawings and prints of the model, and Tate Modern’s “Picasso 1932: Love, Fame, Tragedy” in 2018, which focused on the obsessive year in which he made many of the works featuring her image. Picasso began an affair with the photographer Dora Maar around 1936, overlapping with his relationship with Walter, and Maar, too, and she too became one of his artistic subjects.
Through Picasso’s gaze, Walter has been illustrated sensually daydreaming, fully nude in hues of blue, and formally posing in furs, each work toying with the picture plane in his bold, abstracted style. But in “Femme nue couchée,” she transforms into another species entirely with serpentine gray limbs. Brooke Lampley, chair and head of global fine art sales at Sotheby’s, described “Femme nue couchée” as a “radical departure from tradition.”
“This striking painting is at the same time a deeply lyrical ode to the artist’s unbound desire for Marie-Thérèse,” she said in a press statement ahead of the sale. “With her fin-like, endlessly pliable limbs, the portrait continues to enchant as it perfectly captures Picasso’s muse as the ultimate expression of his genius.”