Picasso Masterpiece from Celebrated ‘Blue Period’ to be Auctioned this Summer

Portrait of Angel Fernandez de Soto,” painted by Pablo Picasso in 1903, is among the pieces up for auction in an Impressionist and Modern Art sale at Christie’s in London this summer. The painting will be priced at £30 million to £40 million.

Portrait of Angel Fernandez de Soto,” painted by Pablo Picasso in 1903, is among the pieces up for auction in an Impressionist and Modern Art sale at Christie’s in London this summer. The painting will be priced at £30 million to £40 million.

LONDON – An exceptionally important and highly celebrated painting by Pablo Picasso from the artist’s celebrated “Blue Period” will be among the pieces up for auction in an Impressionist and Modern Art sale at Christie’s in London this summer.

Painted by Picasso (1881-1973), considered the most influential artist of the 20th century by many, “Portrait of Angel Fernandez de Soto” (1903), is arguably the greatest period in Picasso’s career. As such, the painting will be priced at £30 million to £40 million, and all the proceeds will benefit The Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation, a charity founded by the celebrated composer in 1992. Working for the public benefit, the foundation focuses on the promotion of arts, culture and heritage in Britain.

The painting had been consigned for sale at Christie’s in New York in November of 2006, but was withdrawn from the auction at the request of the vendor after an 11th-hour ownership challenge based on a sale of the painting in the 1930s. This challenge has since been resolved by agreement and the claimants have withdrawn all claims to the painting, leaving the foundation free to sell the work. The auction will be held on the evening of June 23, 2010.

The painting was acquired by The Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation at auction in New York in May of 1995 for $29.2 million from the Stralem Collection, using funds donated for this purpose by Lord Lloyd Webber. Since then, the market for works by Picasso has grown considerably and more than 10 works have sold in excess of this figure, including three works which have realized more than $50 million. In 2004 the Rose Period “Garçon à la pipe”—painted only two years after “Portrait of Angel Fernandez de Soto”—became the first painting to sell at auction for more than $100 million.

“This is one of the most important works of art to be offered at auction in decades, and the opportunity to acquire such a masterpiece of 20th century art is sure to prompt great excitement amongst collectors and institutions around the world,” said Jussi Pylkkänen, president of Christie’s Europe, Russia and the Middle East. “These Blue Period paintings by Picasso, executed when the artist was in his early 20s, paved the way for all the great modernist movements of the 20th century. Consequently it is a painting which has the broadest possible appeal and could find its proper place in any major museum or private collection. This masterpiece from arguably Picasso’s greatest period is sure to ignite huge interest.”

Picasso said his paintings were his autobiography, and nothing expresses that more than “Portrait of Angel Fernandez de Soto.” This painting demonstrates the artist’s skills at the peak of his Blue Period, while also providing an intimate insight into his own life and circle of friends. Sitting with his glass of absinthe and his pipe, the smoke curling upwards, “Portrait of Angel Fernandez de Soto” is the very embodiment of Blue Period aesthetic, rendered in bold, loose, swirling brushstrokes that recall “El Greco” and trumpet Picasso’s virtuosity.

Picasso had met Angel in 1899 at the famous café Els 4 Gats, a celebrated artists’ gathering place which they would both frequent during the latter part of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th century. Picasso had immediately been drawn to Angel’s natural stylishness, and the pair became inseparable dandies: owning only one pair of gloves between them, they would wear one each and keep their other hand hidden.

Angel and his brother Mateu were both artists. While Mateu was a gifted sculptor, Picasso referred to Angel, a painter, as an “amusing wastrel.” He was more dedicated to drinking and partying than to art, enthusiasms that Picasso was often willing to indulge. Angel would eventually become a deputy of the arts before being killed in the Spanish Civil War, but during the wayward period of their youths was immortalized in several of Picasso’s pictures which record their antics in the bars and brothels of Barcelona that are now in the Museu Picasso, Barcelona. This penchant for partying, which would distract Picasso so much that he moved to another studio, is discreetly evident in this contemplative portrait.

Angel is shown with a glass of absinthe, the Fée verte espoused by so many of the celebrated creative minds of the Belle Epoque, including Picasso’s own hero Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, as well as artists and writers such as Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine. This controversial beverage, celebrated for its almost hallucinogenic effects and feared because of its addictive properties, was the subject of Edgar Degas’ “L’absinthe,” the first Impressionist picture sold at Christie’s, bought in 1895 for £189 and now in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris. The drink was seen by many as a fount of creativity, and featured again and again in Picasso’s own work, from his “Absinthe Drinker” of 1901—now in the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia—to his 1914 sculpture, “Le verre d’absinthe,” now in the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.

Angel and Picasso twice shared studios in Barcelona, the second time being during the 1903 trip when “Portrait of Angel Fernandez de Soto” was painted. This was the same studio in Riera de Sant Joan that Picasso formerly shared with his friend and fellow artist Carles Casagemas, whose suicide had partly inspired the Blue Period. Immersed again in these surroundings and these friends, Picasso’s Blue aesthetic flourished, culminating in portraits such as “Portrait of Angel Fernandez de Soto,” which introduced a revolutionary, subjective psychological quality.

Many of the oil portraits of Picasso’s friends painted during this stay in Barcelona are now in museum collections: his “Portrait of Sebastià Junyent” is in the Museu Picasso, Barcelona; “Sebastià Junyer Vidal and a Woman in a Café,” is now in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; “Portrait of Señora Soler” is in the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich; “Portrait of Benet Soler” is in the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg; and “The Soler Family” is in the Musée des Beaux
, Liège.


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