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Picasso portrait of his young mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter to go on sale for first time

Toyin Owoseje, CNN

Pablo Picasso‘s “Femme nue couchée” (“Naked woman reclining”), a portrait of his lover and muse Marie-Thérèse Walter, could sell for more than $60 million when it makes its auction debut next month.

The work, painted in April 1932, could become one of the most valuable portraits of Walter ever offered at auction when it goes under the hammer at Sotheby’s in New York on May 17.

According to the auction house, the rare portrait is from one of the most prolific years of the artist’s career and captures Walter as a sea creature, with gray, languorous limbs and a woman’s face in profile.

Picasso was pioneering “in the history of the nude figure with his depiction of her reclining in a highly abstracted space, highlighting her biomorphic figure with touches of fertility, sexuality, and grace,” Sotheby’s said in a statement.

Helena Newman, the auctioneer’s worldwide head of Impressionist & Modern Art, described “Femme nue couchée” as a “ground-breaking, extraordinarily sensual work.”

Picasso first met Walter in Paris in 1927 when she was 17 years old and he was still married to his first wife, Olga Khokhlova, a Russian-Ukrainian dancer. Walter would become the inspiration for some of his most sought-after canvases, drawings and sculptures.

Brooke Lampley, chair and head of global fine art sales at Sotheby’s, added that the work is a “radical departure from tradition, this striking painting is at the same time a deeply lyrical ode to the artist’s unbound desire for Marie-Thérèse; with her fin-like, endlessly pliable limbs, the portrait continues to enchant as it perfectly captures Picasso’s muse as the ultimate expression of his genius.”

Sotheby’s said the anonymous seller acquired “Femme nue couchée” directly from Picasso’s descendants in 2006 after the large-scale painting was held in the artist’s estate for decades.

Last year, Christie’s New York sold Picasso’s “Femme assise près d’une fenêtre (Marie-Thérèse)” for $103.41 million, compared with an initial estimate of $55 million.

In 2010, the artist’s “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust” sold to an unidentified telephone bidder at Christie’s New York for more than $106 million.

Top image: The late artist Pablo Picasso in 1971.

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