Picasso on sale in Namibia

06 April 2021 | Art and Entertainment

Swakopmund • Erwin Leuschner


A painting by the world-famous artist Pablo Picasso was offered for sale at an auction in Namibia for a record starting price of N$418 million. No bid was entered though.

The painting, the Femme assise au chapeau de paille, is currently kept in a safe in Europe.

The Swakopmund auction house Bay Auctioneers, which also has a branch in Walvis Bay, over the weekend offered it most expensive item to yet - this painting by Pablo Picasso. The online auction started on 31 March and lasted until 5 April.

“No, it wasn't an April Fool's joke,” said auctioneer Quintin Jonck after several people asked him about it.

According to him, a South African agency has the right to sell the painting and put it on the market. The agency, which deals in antiquities, has in the past bought items from his auction house, as he regularly auctions gold coins and more.

“The authenticity of the painting was proven with documentation, which is why I thought: ‘Why not?’ It is a showcase item,” he said.

The painting’s owner is unknown.

According to Jonck, the agency determined the reserve price of U$32 million – around N$480 million in Namibia. He set the input price at N$418 million. He is not surprised that no bid was entered; but “there were a few interested people though. One person intends to travel to Europe to see the painting in person,” Jonck said.

The Femme assise au chapeau de paille is described as one of the most attractive and alluring of Picasso's many portraits of Marie-Thérèse Walter – one of his mistresses. It is one of three portraits he painted of her in July 1938. All three remained in his private collection until the early 1960s. It was painted using oil on canvas and measures 65 cm by 54 cm. Femme assise au chapeau de paille last changed hands in February 2004 at a Sotheby’s auction in London for around US$4.5 million (about N$65 million).

“We often sell items post-auction if it did not sell immediately,” Jonck continued. In the case of the painting, interested parties can continue to make an offer, which he in turn passes on to the agency, which in turn is presented it to the current owner. “Who knows, maybe we’ll sell the piece in the next few days,” he said.

The auction of a Picasso painting at a Swakopmund auction house has raised questions from die-hard artists though.

“Why the painting is not sold at a renowned art auction house such as Sotheby’s is quite strange,” said Martina von Wenzel from the Swakopmund Fine Art Gallery.

She organises annual painting auctions and has customers all over the world.

“If this piece was on auction in Europe, it would have reached real art collectors and the right audience. I think there was a lot of wishful thinking about the price,” she said.

Art experts usually estimate the value of a painting by researching references and applying years of experience.

“To raise a fantasy price is unusual, especially with such high quality paintings,” she continued.

The most expensive Picasso painting yet, is Les femmes d’Alger. It was sold at an auction in May 2015 for a whopping U$179.4 million (about N$2.6 billion).

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