A £112.7 Million Picasso spending spree buoyed big sales at Christie’s and Sotheby’s in London.
The 2018 auction season season appeared to begin with a bang as the Impressionist and Modern evening sales at Christie’s came squarely within its estimate and Sotheby’s surpassed its high estimate, thanks to sales of work by that longtime industry stalwart, Pablo Picasso. A portrait of his mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter sold for £49.8 million ($69.2 million) at Sotheby’s on Wednesday, making it the most expensive painting and the second-most expensive artwork ever sold in Europe. The 1937 painting Femme au béret et à la robe quadrillée (Marie-Thérèse Walter) was purchased by a client on the phone with Lord Mark Poltimore, deputy chairman of Europe for Sotheby’s. According to industry newsletter the Baer Faxt and Bloomberg, the client on the phone was the London advisory outfit Gurr Johns, whose executive chairman Harry Smith had already calmly snapped up nine Picassos at Christie’s on Tuesday and finished Wednesday with three more on top of the portrait of Marie-Thérèse, a total of 13 works in two days for a combined £112.7 million ($155.2 million). It is unclear why the advisor was snapping up so many canvases by Picasso—Gurr Johns did not respond to emails and calls—but Smith was bidding on every single one. There was more good news for Sotheby’s this week when the auction house reported better-than-expected earnings in the fourth quarter and strong full-year profits thanks to higher auction sales, robust private dealmaking, and a growing presence in Asia.