Eleven Pablo Picasso artworks that were on display at a Las Vegas restaurant for over 20 years will hit the auction block this October, just two days before what would have been the artist’s 140th birthday.
Part of MGM Resorts’ sizable art collection, the pieces had long been a fixture at Picasso, a Michelin-starred French and Spanish eatery in the Bellagio that is inspired by its namesake’s life and work.
The collection – which includes paintings, works on paper and one ceramic work – has a combined top estimate of $104.2 million, according to Sotheby’s auction house, which is organizing the sale.
“It’s an encyclopedic collection of Picasso’s work, featuring works from 1917 to 1969 – so virtually the duration of his entire career,” said Brooke Lampley, Sotheby’s chairman and worldwide head of sales for global fine art, over the phone. “It gives a beautifully comprehensive view of the incredible diversity and richness of his career.”
It will be the first time Las Vegas has hosted one of Sotheby’s marquee evening sales, which are typically held at the auction house’s New York headquarters.
A varied collection
Among the 11 works is “Femme au béret rouge-orange,” an oil painting of Marie-Thérèse Walter, a young French model with whom the artist had a years-long affair in the late 1920s and 1930s. Picasso’s extensive portraits of Walter, who was the mother of his daughter Maya, are marked by vivid colors and a sense of intimacy.
“I just love the Marie-Thérèse period, because it’s the most unusually sincere and romantic period of Picasso’s career,” Lampley said. She noted that some of the artist’s stylistic choices, including the double Cubist-style face and Walter’s beret, are reminiscent of his famed paintings of another romantic partner, the photographer Dora Maar.
“You can see the integrated influences of the two muses at this time,” Lampley added.
Other works in the sale include 1969’s “Buste d’homme,” a painting from Picasso’s late period that once hung behind the Las Vegas restaurant’s bar; “Nature morte au panier de fruits et aux fleurs,” a still-life painted during the Nazi occupation of Paris; and “Aiguière – Visage,” a white terracotta vessel he made in 1954.
A new location
The Picasso auction will be the “largest and most significant” fine art sale ever to take place in Las Vegas, according to Sotheby’s. The move is part of MGM’s attempts to reposition the city – known for gambling and entertainment – as “a broader art destination,” Lampley said.
It comes at a time when the ongoing pandemic is radically shifting both the art market and the hospitality and travel sectors. Last August, MGM Resorts laid off 18,000 employees – a quarter of its workforce – amid a 61% decline in Las Vegas visitor numbers in July 2020 compared to the previous year. This month, MGM Resorts International reported a bounce-back in its second-quarter earnings due to an increase in travel.
In a press release, MGM said that auctioning off the Picasso works would help its goal of “deepening diversity and inclusion” within its art collection. Some of the proceeds will be invested back into the art market, according to Sotheby’s.
The resort group’s chief hospitality officer Ari Kastrati said in a statement: “We are committed to creating an even more inclusive collection that maintains the breadth of our existing portfolio while giving a greater voice to artists from under-represented communities.”
MGM declined to provide a timeline for the initiative. “We want to be thoughtful and reflective about how we move forward,” a spokesperson said via Sotheby’s, which confirmed that the group’s collection still contains 12 other Picasso artworks that will replace the auctioned items at the restaurant.
Top: “Buste d’homme” hanging behind the bar at Picasso, which opened in 1998.