Picasso Portrait of a Lover and a Muse at Auction for the First Time | Pablo Picasso

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For the first time, a sensual representation of Pablo Picasso’s muse and lover as a multi-limbed sea creature from the artist’s most fertile year is auctioned.

Femme nue couchée (Reclining Naked Woman) is expected to sell for more than $60 million next month, reflecting the desirability among collectors of Picasso’s paintings of Marie-Thérèse Walter.

“Picasso’s portraits of his golden muse, Marie-Thérèse, are an undeniable hallmark of 20th-century art,” said Brooke Lampley, chair and head of global art sales at Sotheby’s, which sells the painting.

Femme nue couchée was “a deeply lyrical ode to the artist’s irrepressible longing for Marie-Thérèse; With its fin-like, endlessly flexible limbs, the portrait continues to enchant as it perfectly captures Picasso’s muse as the ultimate expression of his genius.

Picasso’s relationship with Walter – regarded as one of the great love affairs of the 20th century – was a closely guarded secret for many years.

The 45-year-old and happily married artist fell in love with 17-year-old Walter in 1927 when he noticed her through the window of the Galeries Lafayette in Paris. “I’m sure we can do great things together. I’m Picasso,” he told the teenager, who had no idea who he was.

She inspired paintings, drawings and sculptures, some of which are considered the greatest works of Picasso’s eight-decade career.

An exhibition at the Tate Modern four years ago was dedicated to Picasso’s work in 1932, particularly his intense portraits of Walter.

“There were many notable years in Pablo Picasso’s long, dramatic career, but 1932 stands out as particularly momentous,” said Julian Dawes, co-director of modern art at Sotheby’s in New York.

“In that ‘year of wonders’ Picasso produced the most sensual depictions of his great muse and lover, Marie-Thérèse Walter, which would inspire some of the artist’s most iconic paintings.”

In Femme nue couchée, Walter is portrayed with the sensual limbs of a sea creature. She was an avid and skilled swimmer whose grace in the water fascinated Picasso, who never learned to swim.

The lovers had enjoyed a seaside tryst in the summer of 1928, when Picasso secretly put Walter up at a holiday camp near where the artist, his then-wife Olga Khokhlova, a Russian-Ukrainian dancer, and their son Paulo were staying.

Last year Picasso’s Femme assise près d’une fenêtre (Marie-Thérèse) sold for $103.4 million at an auction in New York.

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