‘To me there is no past or future in my art,’ wrote Pablo Picasso in 1923. ‘If a work of art cannot live always in the present it must not be considered at all. The art of the Greeks, of the Egyptians, of the great painters who lived in other times, is not an art of the past; perhaps it is more alive today than it ever was…’
On 11 May in New York, Pablo Picasso’s Les femmes d’Alger (Version “O”) will be among the star lots featured at Christie’s Looking Forward to the Past, a new sale providing a distinct and dynamic perspective on some of the greatest and most revolutionary artists of the 20th century, and specifically how these artists used inspiration from the past to create something entirely innovative and new.
AUCTION REPORTPicasso breaks world auction record in New YorkRead more
Looking Forward to the Past is being curated by Loic Gouzer, International Specialist, Post-War and Contemporary Art, and will include approximately 25 lots created between 1902 and the end of the century. Additional highlights of the sale will include paintings, drawings, and sculpture by artists including Claude Monet, Piet Mondrian, Egon Schiele, Marcel Duchamp, René Magritte, Pablo Picasso, Jean Dubuffet, Mark Rothko, Alexander Calder, Martin Kippenberger, and John Currin, among others.
‘In today’s fast-paced world,’ says Gouzer, ‘it is remarkable to think that Picasso’s Les femmes d’Alger exhibits as much freshness of perspective and approach as it did when it was painted.’
Pablo Picasso, Les femmes d’Alger (Version "O"), 1955. Oil on canvas. Estimate: in the region of $US140 million. © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2015
This majestic, vibrantly-hued painting is the final and most highly finished work from Picasso’s 1954-55 Femmes d’Alger series in which he looked back to 19th century French master Eugene Delacroix for inspiration, and in the process created a new style of painting.
‘Les femmes d’Alger, (Version “O”) is the culmination of a herculean project which Picasso started after Matisse’s death, in homage to his lost friend and competitor, and which over a period of two months and after nearly 100 studies on paper and 14 other paintings led to the creation of this phenomenal canvas in February 1955,’ explains Olivier Camu, Deputy Chairman, Impressionist and Modern Art.
Picasso painted a series of 15 variations on Delacroix’s Les femmes d’Alger between December 1954 and February 1955, designated as versions A through O. Throughout his series, Picasso references the Spanish master’s two versions of the shared subject, intermingling their elements.
The artist had been fascinated by Delacroix all his adult life, and by Les femmes d’Alger in particular. In addition to being an homage to Delacroix, Picasso conceived the series as an elegy to his friend and great artistic rival, Henri Matisse. Matisse had died in November 1954, five weeks before Picasso began the series. Matisse viewed Delacroix as his immediate forebear in terms of colour and Orientalist subject matter.
Over the years, Les femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’) has been featured prominently in major Picasso retrospectives all over the world, including at The Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1957 and 1980, The National Gallery in London in 1960, the Grand Palais, Paris in 1966-1967, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York in 1968, and more recently at the survey Picasso et les Maîtres at the Louvre in 2008-2009, as well as at Picasso: Challenging the Past, at London’s National Gallery in 2009, and Picasso & Modern British Art at the Tate Britain in 2012.
‘With its packed composition, play on cubism and perspective, its violent colours, and its brilliant synthesis of Picasso’s lifelong obsessions, it is a milestone in Picasso’s oeuvre and one of his most famous masterpieces, together with Les demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907, and Guernica, 1937,’ says Camu. ‘One can arguably say that this is the single most important painting by Picasso to remain in private hands.’
Previously sold at Christie’s in 1997, as part of the record-breaking sale of the Collection of Victor and Sally Ganz, this iconic work promises to cause a sensation on the global art market this spring. Christie’s holds the world auction record for a work by Pablo Picasso with Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, 1932, sold for $106.5 million in New York in May 2010. Les femmes d’Alger (Version “O”) has been estimated to realise in the region of US$140 million.
For more features, interviews and videos, see our Art Digest homepage