On Tuesday night in Christie’s New York sales room, Fillette à la corbeille fleurie (1905)—a masterpiece by Pablo Picasso from the collection of David Rockefeller—sold for $115 million, above its on-request estimate that was in the range of $100 million. The work was secured by Loic Gouzer, co-chairman of Post-War and Contemporary art, for the bidder on his phone for a hammer of $102 million.
The phones of the specialists on the rostrum were curiously quiet, with just one bid from Gouzer and none from Rebecca Wei, Christie’s Asia president, or Xin Li, the deputy chairman for Christie’s Asia Pacific, who had been active bidders during last night’s sale. Still, the total makes the work the second most expensive Picasso sold at auction, behind Le Femme de Algiers (Version ‘O’) which sold at Christie’s in May 2015 for $179.4 million. It is also among the ten most most expensive work ever sold at auction.
The Picasso comes with an impeccable provenance: It was the first work by Picasso purchased by the writer Gertrude Stein and her brother, Leo, and many say the first major sale of his young career. The pair would go on to become one of the artist’s most important collectors and champions, but at the time Gertrude was no fan of the work—her and Leo got in a vicious fight over whether or not to by it, as depicted in Stein’s book, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. “Gertrude Stein did not like the picture, she found something rather appalling in the drawing of the legs and feet, something that repelled and shocked her,” Stein wrote (the novel is written from the perspective of Toklas, Stein’s partner.) But Leo eventually swayed his sister, and they purchased the painting for 150 francs.
Upon Toklas’s death in 1967, the trustees of the Museum of Modern Art drew straws to see who would have first pick of the collection, and when David Rockefeller won, he chose the Picasso of the young girl holding the flowers. It remained in the library of his family’s mansion on 65th Street for decades.