Some of the bids for a 1932 Pablo Picasso masterpiece, which went up on display at Sotheby's in Dubai on Monday, could come from the UAE, according to experts. The portrait - 'Femme a la montre' - is expected to sell for at least $120 million (approximately Dh440 million).

"The UAE has become quite a hub for art lovers and art collectors," said Melica Khansari, the head of communications at Sotheby, Middle East. "So, we think some of the bids for the painting could come in from people residing in the country."

The extremely rare portrait of Marie-Thérèse Walter, titled 'Femme à la Montre' is the highest value painting ever brought to the Middle East by an auction house. Within hours of its opening for public viewing, dozens of people had trooped into the auction house at the Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) to catch a glimpse of it. From children to art aficionados, several people spent time looking at the painting and taking photos with it.

The painting was owned by art collector Emily Fisher Landau, who bought it in 1968 for $300,000. Until she died in 2022, it hung over her mantlepiece in her living room. Now, over 120 exceptional works she collected, estimated to bring in more than $400 million, will be offered for sale at Sotheby's New York in two dedicated auctions.

History of the painting

Painted in 1932 - often known as one of Picasso's most successful years - the painting is renowned for a number of reasons. However, for Julian Dawes, Sotheby's Head of Impressionist and Modern Art in America, the most attractive feature of the painting is the watch on her wrist. "From among the thousands of paintings he has done, Picasso has painted a watch on only three of his paintings," he said. "This is one of them. The back story is that he was an avid watch collector himself. He gave a watch in 1932 to Marie-Thérèse, and it was incredibly important to her. Illustrating the watch on her so prominently, he is acknowledging the gift to her, and she is very proud of it."

Marie-Thérèse is often referred to as Picasso's golden muse, partly because she was a blonde but also because some of the iconic artist's best pieces came when he was with her. "The work that he did when he was with her and inspired by her is the most joyful, energetic, ambitious and beloved of any of his eight-decade-long career," said Julian.

"When you look at this painting, not only is it grand and ambitious but it is also quintessentially Picasso," said. "It helps us understand why he is so universally beloved and relevant across cultures and geography."

The year of 1932

According to Julian, 1931 and 1932 were very important to Picasso. "In 1932, Picasso had his first career retrospective, which is a big deal for a living artist," he said. "He knew that he was going to have this show for a year leading up to it. So he was trying to paint his own legacy and wanted to take his artistic mastery to a whole new level, which he succeeded in doing."

Moreover, several paintings, including the 'Femme à la Montre', were exhibited at the retrospective. "Despite meeting her in 1927 when he was still married to his first wife, Picasso and Marie-Thérèse's relationship was kept a secret for years," he said. "In 1932, when the retrospective was held, there were all these paintings of this woman. And that is how their relationship became public."

The painting will be on view to the public in the DIFC on Tuesday, September 26, from 10am to 7pm before it travels to Hong Kong and London. It will then return to New York, where it will be auctioned in November.


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