A Pablo Picasso drawing that was once sold by the German Jewish banker Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy under pressure from the Nazi regime and eventually made its way to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., is returning to the market. The pastel portrait, Head of a Woman (ca. 1903), was recently returned from the National Gallery of Art to Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s descendants, who asked New York mega-gallery Gagosian to sell the work last September. The gallery has set the estimated price of the work at $10 million.
What makes this particular work so rare is that it’s so finished, unlike other works on paper from this period that were more like sketches [...] You can tell Picasso has found his voice.
Larry Gagosian. Photo by Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images.
Mendelssohn-Bartholdy was an avid collector, and had amongst his collection Picasso’s Boy with a Pipe (1905), which broke the record for most expensive painting at auction when it sold at Sotheby’s in 2004. He also owned Vincent Van Gogh’s Sunflowers (1889), which sold for almost $40 million at Christie’s in 1987. He was an early target of Adolf Hitler’s regime due to his role in finance, and after losing a large portion of his income, he was forced to sell much of his art collection. He died in 1935 of a heart attack.
His descendants’ choice to sell the work through a gallery rather than an auction house reflects a broader shift in how estate sales are made. In February, the mega-galleries Acquavella, Gagosian, and Pace Gallery announced that they had teamed up to sell the estate of collector Donald B. Marron, estimated at $450 million. The decision may also be informed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced auction houses to conduct sales online.