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A Picasso From 1932 Asks $120 Million at Auction


The 1932 portrait hails from the estimated $400 million estate of Emily Fisher Landau, a New York collector who died in March at age 102. Fisher Landau’s 120-piece trove includes major examples by Jasper Johns, Ed Ruscha and Andy Warhol, so market watchers will be closely following the estate’s performance to gauge global bidder interest during the current slump. The Picasso, which carries the artist’s second-highest asking price ever, will come under the most scrutiny.

“Masterpieces are incredibly market resilient,” Brooke Lampley, Sotheby’s head of global fine art, said. Lampley confirmed the house won the consignment in part by guaranteeing Fisher Landau’s heirs that the house itself would buy her pieces, including the Picasso, if no other bidders stepped up during the Nov. 8-9 sales.

To break Picasso’s record, “Woman with a Watch” will need to sell for more than the $179.4 million paid in 2015 for a 1955 harem scene, “Women of Algiers (Version O).”

Collectors tend to pay a premium for Picasso’s works from the 1930s, with half of the artist’s top 10 priciest works hailing from that decade, according to auction database Artnet. Three date to the same year Sotheby’s example was painted: 1932, a seminal period in Picasso’s career when he was readying works for a retrospective and reveling in a secret love affair with Marie-Thérèse Walter. In 2010, Christie’s sold another Picasso from 1932, “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust,” for $106.5 million.

Museums including London’s Tate Modern have devoted entire shows to that singular year when Picasso used a lush, jewel-tone palette to paint his mistress lounging in voluptuous repose. The Tate Modern didn’t borrow Fisher Landau’s Picasso, but at least six other museums have exhibited it over the years, most recently a 2022 show of her collection at West Palm Beach’s Norton Museum of Art.

Fisher Landau, born in 1920 and raised in New York, bought the Picasso with her first husband, real-estate developer Martin Fisher, in 1968 when she was just starting to collect art. The following year, armed burglars disguised as repairmen broke into their Upper East Side apartment and stole her jewels out of her safe. She decided to spend the insurance payout on art.

“She never bought important jewelry after that,” said her daughter, Candia Fisher, also a collector. “She’d point out women wearing big pieces at galas and say, ‘Think of the art they could buy.’”

Her mother later married clothing manufacturer Sheldon Landau, and in 1991 the couple arrayed much of the collection—estimated then to be around 1,500 works—in a former parachute harness factory in Queens. The Fisher Landau Center for Art regularly mounted shows until 2017 when Candia Fisher said her mother was no longer able to oversee it and no one else in the family wanted to take over.

The family is holding on to some of those pieces. Fisher Landau also gave around 400 pieces to New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art, where she served as a longtime trustee. In 1994, the museum named the fourth floor of its former Breuer Building in her honor.

In a twist, the Breuer now belongs to Sotheby’s. But since the house is still transforming the space into an auction hub, Fisher Landau’s estate will be auctioned off at its current York Avenue headquarters across town.

Other sale highlights include Jasper Johns’s “Flags” from 1986, a side-by-side view of two U.S. flags that Sotheby’s expects to sell for at least $35 million, and Andy Warhol’s camouflage “Self Portrait” dated to the same year, which is estimated to sell for at least $15 million.

Willem de Kooning’s wispy red-and-blue abstract “Untitled XV” from 1983 is estimated to sell for at least $6 million, and Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Pink Tulip” from 1925 is estimated to sell for at least $3 million.

Another work to watch: Ruscha’s “Securing the Last Letter (Boss),” a 1964, blue-and-orange wordplay painting in which the conceptual artist paints a clamp that appears to be squeezing the second “s” in the word boss. Sotheby’s said it still hasn’t finalized an asking price for that work, but expectations will likely run high as its sale coincides with the artist’s must-see retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art.

Fisher Landau was known to have one of the world’s biggest collections of Ruscha’s work and visited him often at his studio in Los Angeles. “Mom used to get so excited about seeing Ed,” her daughter said, adding, “Artists were her rock stars.”

Write to Kelly Crow at [email protected]

A Picasso From 1932 Asks $120 Million at Auction

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A Picasso From 1932 Asks $120 Million at Auction
A Picasso From 1932 Asks $120 Million at Auction

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A Picasso From 1932 Asks $120 Million at Auction

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.