Pablo Picasso, Les Femmes d’Alger (Women of Algiers) (version O), 1955, oil on canvas, sold for USD 179m on 11 May 2015 at Christie’s New York © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2015 – www.christies.com
That’s the way Art goes, at least Art with a capital A, the art of certain artists, of certain artworks which are greatly sought after in the world’s most prestigious auction rooms. The highest world auction record was reached by Christie’s in New York on 11 May last: the price of Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger (version O) soared to USD 179 m, shattering its USD 140m pre-sale estimate. This exceptional work of art, considered one of the Spanish painter’s masterpieces alongside Les demoiselles d’Avignon (The Young Ladies of Avignon) (1907) and Guernica (1937), has become the most expensive artwork to be sold at auction! The sale made Christie’s pulverize its own record (which it had been holding since November 2013 for Bacon’s triptych Three Studies of Lucian Freud – sold for USD 142.4 m), while also Picasso smashed his record, that of Nu, feuilles vertes et buste (Nude, Green Leaves and Bust), a painting from 1932 sold for USD 106.6 m, still at Christie’s, in May 2010. Yet Christie’s didn’t stop there. No less than ten artists’ records were set on the evening on 11 May, during Christie’s special Looking forward to the past sale. Giacometti, Dubuffet, Soutine and Doig were amongst the record holders in this mad worldwide competition.
The Picasso painting is part of the Femmes d’Alger series that the artist painted between 1954 and 1955 as a tribute to Delacroix and Matisse. This is the best one of the 15 different works (from A to O). The vibrant colours, the playful approach to cubism and perspective, the powerful effect of the decomposition – recomposition make it a brilliant synthesis of the obsessions of this painter, who was fascinated by Delacroix and more particularly by this scene set in a harem. An iconic work, very actual too, it has been shown in numerous retrospective expositions the world over – the last one at the Tate Modern in 2012. Experts consider it one of the last Picasso works in a private collection. Christie’s had already sold this same work in 1997, for an amount of almost USD 32 m. That was not even 20 years ago. So crazy!