Entertainment & Arts

Picasso blue period portrait breaks auction record

Employees of Sotheby's auction house pose for photographers with the 1901 painting La Gommeuse Image copyright AFP
Image caption Works by Picasso. Monet and Van Gogh were top lots at the auction.

A new record for a blue period Picasso has been set at auction in New York.

La Gommeuse achieved the top price of $67.5m (£45m) at Sotheby's, as part of their Impressionist & Modern Art sale on Thursday.

And Van Gogh's atmospheric landscape, Paysage sous un ciel mouvemente, sold for $54m (£36m), helping to take the evening's total to $306.7m (£203m).

Simon Shaw, co-head of Impressionist and modern art worldwide, called it "a small sale that packed a real punch".

He added: "Each season Picasso has the remarkable ability to surprise, and tonight was no exception, with the unusual appearance of two Blue Period works, which set new benchmarks - both in oil and on paper."

La Gommeuse, described as most the important blue period Picasso to come to the market in a generation, was painted in 1901.

The portrait is of a nude unnamed woman. Gommeuse, which translates into English as 'gummy' was a sexually charged slang word of the time for cafe-concert singers and their songs.


  • Women of Algiers - $179.4m (2015)
  • Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust - $106.5m (2010)
  • Boy With a Pipe - $104.1m (2004)
  • Dora Maar au Chat - $95.2m (2006)
  • La Gommeuse - $67.5m (2015)
  • Buste de Femme - $67.4m (2015)
  • Femme aux Bras Croises - $55m (2000)

It features a second portrait on the reverse of the canvas, which was hidden for a century until its discovery in 2000 during conservation work.

The caricature of Picasso's friend Pere Manach was apparently intended as a gift for the Catalan anarchist who shared the artist's studio flat in the Boulevard de Clichy in Paris.

The painting was one of 47 works on offer, with just over three-quarters finding buyers.

At least two of the top 10 lots were bought by Asian private collectors, continuing a trend of recent seasons.

The $306.7m (£202m) total comfortably beat the $275m (£182m) low pre-sale estimate. Sotheby's had tagged the high estimate at about $370m (£244.5m).

This total brings Sotheby's sales of Impressionist & Modern Art in just the past 24 hours to $575.8m (£381m),

Earlier this year, Picasso's Women of Algiers became the most expensive painting to sell at auction, going for $160m (£102.6m) at Christie's in New York.

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