Pablo Picasso, Nature morte aux tulipes. Painted in March 1932. Estimate: $35/50 million. Photo: Sotheby's.
“We are honored to be entrusted this stunning image of Marie-Thérèse, one of the legendary series of pictures that made Picasso the most famous artist in the world,” commented Simon Shaw, Head of Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art department in New York. “The young woman, with her Grecian profile and athletic, statuesque frame, inspired Picasso’s greatest achievements in a variety of media. Nature morte aux tulipes is exceptional within the series for its double-meditation on this subject, demonstrating the influence of Surrealism on his output: the artist builds a sculpture of Marie-Thérèse, and then paints that sculpture as a sexually-charged still life, allowing him to dissect her form on many levels. The work comes to auction from an important private collection, and was last seen at auction in 2000 when it sold for $28.6 million.”
Picasso met the then-17 year old Marie-Thérèse in Paris in 1927, and soon began a secret romance with her while still married to his wife Olga Khokhlova. Intensely attracted to her blond Nordic form, physical presence and sexuality, Picasso fell deeply in love with the young woman, who would be his incomparable golden muse throughout nearly a decade of explosive creative output. The two eventually had a daughter, Maya, in the fall of 1935.
Throughout 1931, Picasso had been working on several monumental plaster busts that incorporated Marie-Thérèse’s strong profile. These bright white forms, gleaming amidst the darkness of his carriage house in Boisgeloup, were an irresistible spectacle, inciting Picasso’s Cubist fascination with the dimensionality of form in space. By the end of 1931 he began to feature images of his plaster sculptures into his paintings, and it is Marie-Thérèse’s highly-tactile and plasticized form that defines these majestic paintings of 1932.
Nature morte aux tulipes is one of the celebrated pictures completed in anticipation of the major retrospective that Picasso was planning in the summer of 1932 in Paris and Zurich. It was at this exhibition that his wife Olga, upon seeing his numerous references to a specific face that was clearly not her own, was alerted to the presence of another woman in her husband’s life. Until the exhibition, Picasso’s relationship with Marie-Thérèse had been a tightly guarded secret, the evidence of which he had kept sealed away at the studio he maintained at Boisgeloup. He had purchased this property near Gisors in 1930 as a retreat house, where he could escape from Olga and spend time alone with his mistress. The chateau at Boisegeloup was much larger than his studio in Paris, and the space allowed him to create the monumental plaster busts of Marie-Thérèse that inspired the present picture.
Sotheby’s will offer another stunning example of Picasso’s portraits of Marie-Thérèse in the Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale on 5 November.
*Pre-sale estimate does not include buyer’s premium.