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You don’t have to splurge to own a Picasso

A Sotheby's auction this May will include works by the artist estimated at an absurdly low $5,000

‘Petit Taureau’ (1957) is estimated to go for $30,000-40,000. Photographs: Courtesy Sotheby’s.
‘Petit Taureau’ (1957) is estimated to go for $30,000-40,000. Photographs: Courtesy Sotheby’s.

When Pablo Picasso died in 1973, he left a chunk of his estate to his granddaughter, Marina Picasso. Included in her inheritance was La Californie, a colossal white villa in the south of France, along with millions of dollars’ worth of art.

She has begun to sell some of that art, most notably in the auction Picasso In Private, which garnered a total of £12 million (around Rs99 crore) in February 2016 at Sotheby’s in London. On 18 May, Marina is putting an additional 111 of her grandfather’s artworks up for auction at Sotheby’s in New York, in a sale that’s expected to yield between $3.3 million (around Rs21 crore) and $4.7 million.

The auction, Picasso Man & Beast, comprises 64 works on paper and 47 ceramic objects, all of which depict either people or animals. Estimates in the sale range from $5,000 to $120,000.

For anyone even slightly familiar with Picasso’s multibillion-dollar market—one of his paintings recently sold for $179 million—those estimates might appear absurdly low, especially considering that they’re coming straight from the artist’s own studio. But according to Scott Niichel, Sotheby’s co-head of day sales for impressionist and modern art, the auction house has its reasons.

‘Vase-Femme Avec un Bras-Anse’, a unique ceramic work, is estimated at $40,000-60,000
‘Vase-Femme Avec un Bras-Anse’, a unique ceramic work, is estimated at $40,000-60,000

The first is that many of these artworks are studies or experiments and thus don’t have an aesthetic that immediately screams “Picasso". “In some cases, unless you’re quite educated in the trajectory of his career, you might not immediately recognize these works as Picassos," says Niichel, noting that other works are “quite iconic".

But those non-iconic lots could serve as a deterrent to some collectors. Take a 1914 watercolour of a fish, which Niichel says is one of his personal favourites. Its estimate: $5,000-7,000, or about the price of a business-class flight from New York to London. Painted at the height of Picasso’s cubist period, “it’s a kind of realistic depiction", he says. “Works such as this one are such an aberration from what he’s best known for."

Another hurdle is that while most of the works are dated, many of them don’t carry the precious Picasso signature, which Niichel acknowledges could depress their prices. Similarly, “in many of the cases with the works on paper, the dates are on the verso of the sheets, and not front and centre," he says, a potential further deterrent to high-spending collectors.

Finally, there’s Sotheby’s itself. “We of course like to set estimates that are approachable for our sales," Niichel says. At the current prices, bargains abound, particularly in the case of the ceramics. Picasso made upwards of 4,000 unique ceramic objects and chose 633 of them to turn into editions. Those editions have recently become hot commodities, with pieces selling for more than $230,000.

Most of the ceramic objects in this sale, however, are unique objects, yet many of their estimates are well below their editioned counterparts: A plate depicting what appears to be an enraged owl is estimated at $18,000-25,000; another plate with one of Picasso’s signature bulls is expected to fetch from $25,000-35,000.

“This is a sale where there’s something for just about anyone who has an interest in Picasso," Niichel says. Bloomberg

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