Picasso's Painting, La Lecture (The Reading)

Yesterday's  News: A Bidding War over a Picasso Paining ended with a sale of about $40.2 million -- approximately double the price it was estimated to earn.

"A heated competition between bidders ended with Pablo Picasso's La Lecture soaring past expectations and fetching more than $40 million in London...The 1932 portrait of Picasso's young lover and muse Marie-Thérèse Walter sparked a brief bidding war between seven interested buyers at Sotheby's impressionist and modern art sale on Tuesday evening."

Reading this, I couldn't help but recall the story behind this painting and tragedy of Marie-Thérèse Walter's life.

The painting led to the break up of Picasso's marriage to his first wife  Olga Khokhlova after she saw it at a retrospective exhibition and realised that the facial features were not her own. Marie-Thérèse lived in the vain hope that Picasso would one day marry her, and hanged herself four years after Picasso’s death.  (source: wikipedia)

Despite (or maybe because of) the tragedy that plagued much of Picasso's life, he seemed to channel everything into his Artwork -- which was often brilliant.

I also thought of the last novel I read, "An Object of Beauty," by Steve Martin. I won't review the book, but it was intriguing to learn more about a side of the art world I usually don't see: the behind-the-scenes activity in auction houses. I have attended a few auctions but never as a buyer. I also frequent galleries, but, like most artists, just to view the artwork or show my own work. So to borrow from Steve Martin's book, I have difficulty seeing Art, or,  "objects of beauty," as "objects of value."  I just enjoy experiencing the work! That's not to say I can't easily spot a "highly valuable" work of art, but there is a certain level of knowledge --particularly about the secondary market -- that is necessary to really understand what makes one painting worth many millions more than another.  I am affiliated with ArtScouttv.com which produces videos that showcase the Art and Design world, and there is a great video of Art Basel with Michelle Rosenfeld, an art expert and gallerist who has an extensive knowledge of these particularities. Michelle can approach just about any artwork by any important artist and tell you during what period of the Artist's career it was produced, the approximate market value, the amount it has appreciated of over the years, and what factors might make the artwork more or less valuable. Check it out here. I give a tour of Art Basel as well, but from the standpoint of a working artist; for instance, we conveniently found a Jeff Koons painting I helped paint when I worked for him. Watch my video here.

Back to the novel, the main character of the book is fictitious, although based on an ambitious, young gallerist Steve Martin personally knew. He is an Art collector with an impressive knowledge of Art History and Theory.  She began her career at Sotheby's in New York, and worked her way up. During her rise to the top, she decided to anonymously auction a painting she'd (essentially) inherited. Since she worked at the auction house, she knew the maximum amount a collector was willing to bid (this number is recorded for estimates) and had a friend counter-bid via phone to drive up the price by hundreds of thousands.

La Lecture Being Auctioned