Femme nue couchée, which shows Marie-Thérèse Walter in repose, will hit the auction block on May 17. The sale will mark the first time the painting has ever been sold at auction. The current anonymous seller has owned the work since 2008.
Walter was only 17 when she met the middle-aged Spanish painter. Picasso carried out an affair with Walter while he was still married to his first wife, Olga. The contentious tryst between the three would fuel much of Picasso’s output in the years to come.
Eventually, Walter become a major fixture in many of his works throughout the 1930s and ’40s. Picasso often portrayed her with her eyes closed.
The year this work was made, 1932, is considered the most valuable one in Picasso’s oeuvre for collectors. In 1932 alone, he created over 100 works, many of which feature Walter. In 2018, an exhibition at Tate Modern in London was dedicated to this year of Picasso’s career.
In a statement, Brooke Lampley, Sotheby’s worldwide head of sales for fine art, described the present work as “a radical departure from tradition,” calling it “a deeply lyrical ode to the artist’s unbound desire for Marie-Thérèse.”
While $60 million would be a significant sum for most artists, it is only a decent one for Picasso, whose work regularly sells for particularly grand prices.
The third-most expensive painting by the artist to ever come to auction is Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, a canvas from 1932 that sold for $106.5 million at Christie’s in 2010. Another work from 1932, Femme assise près d’une fenêtre (Marie-Thérèse), sold for $103 million at Christie’s last May in New York. It was expected to fetch $55 million.