The portrait entitled Femme a la Montre in French, or Woman in Watch in English, was painted in 1932 and holds an estimate in excess of $120 million.
“This is the most valuable work Sotheby’s has ever sent to the region, and it is no coincidence that it is also the most important 20th-century painting to appear at auction in the modern market,” Julian Dawes, head of impressionist and modern art for Sotheby’s US tells The National.
“This will mark the first time the painting has ever travelled to the Middle East, and it has, in fact, not been exhibited anywhere outside of the US since it was acquired in 1968.”
The painting belonged to Emily Fisher Landau, the New York philanthropist whose art collection of nearly 120 works includes pieces by esteemed artists such as Henri Matisse, Piet Mondrian, Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol and many more.
Femme a la Montre is a portrait of Marie-Therese Walter also known as Picasso’s ‘golden muse.’ Apart from being the subject of many of his most well-known works, Walter was also in a relationship with Picasso during his marriage to the dancer Olga Khokhlova. Walter gave birth to Picasso’s first daughter Maya Widmaier-Picasso in 1935.
Other portraits of Walter by Picasso include Seated Woman, Girl with a Red Beret and Pompom and Woman in Hat and Fur Collar all painted in 1937.
Femme a la Montre is considered a crucial work within Picasso’s oeuvre.
It depicts Walter sitting on a chair against an electric blue background. Picasso’s style of painting during this period was characterised by his use of angular and overlapping planes or facets painted in bold colours.
His subjects, often women, were distorted and stylised where touches of the surreal and influences from his cubist period play a large part in the creation of these mesmerising and striking portraits.
A distinguishing feature of the Femme a la Montre and a focal point in the painting is the watch Picasso painted on Walter’s wrist.
Only three of Picasso’s many portraits include his sitter wearing a watch.
“The wristwatch, itself an object only newly worn by women at this period in time, can be seen as a modern take on vanitas imagery and an homage to the motifs of the Old Masters whom Picasso so revered,” Dawes adds.
“We know that Picasso gifted Marie-Therese a significant watch around this time, one which she cherished, and he no doubt saw it in this context as a signifier both of her newly evolved status in his life – which reads as almost regal in this work – as well as his love and affection for her.”
Not only does the presence of the watch in the paintings act as a reference to the centuries-old tradition of vanitas painting, a 16th century genre which uses symbolism to reflect fleeting concepts such as love and life, but watches also hold a great significance to the artist.
Picasso had a deep passion for timepieces and was an avid collector, owning watches by Rolex, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Patek Philippe.
Femme a la Montre is one of the most important works Picasso painted in 1932, a year which is deemed as particularly significant for the artist.
In 2018, the Tate Modern and Musee Picasso Paris held an exhibition titled Picasso 1932 – Love, Fame, Tragedy which showcased more than 100 paintings, drawings and sculptures created by the artist in that year. Femme a la Montre, however, privately owned by Landau, was not part of the exhibition.
The painting has only been publicly exhibited four times while under Landau’s ownership – in the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, in the Perez Art Museum in Miami and twice in the Norton Museum of Art in Palm Beach.
After its unveiling in Sotheby’s Dubai, Femme a la Montre is set to go on a global tour where it will be showcased in Hong Kong, London and Taipei before it is sold at auction in Sotheby’s in New York on November 8 to 9.
“More than anything I think that this painting contains so much insight into Picasso the man, the artist, the phenomenon,” Dawes adds.
“If you only saw one Picasso in your life this would be a worthy candidate!”
Femme a la Montre will be on view at Sotheby’s Dubai in DIFC from September 25 to 26.