Picasso painted “La Gommeuse” in 1901 at age 19. The painting features a nude cabaret dancer, and on the back of the canvas is a caricature of his friend Pere Manach. It is to be auctioned Nov. 5.
A painting by Pablo Picasso not seen in public for more than 30 years — and concealing a second image on its reverse — is to go on sale with an estimated value of $60m.
“La Gommeuse”, a provocative image of a Parisian woman wearing only a flower in her hair and a red scarf around her neck, was painted by the 19-year-old Spaniard in 1901, just months after his first successful solo show in the French capital.
The work is a rare example from Picasso’s so-called ‘blue period’ when, under a cloud of depression, the artist adopted a cool-toned palette of blues and blue-greens and chose to depict poignant subjects such as a blind musician, prostitutes and alcoholics. It will be unveiled at Sotheby’s London showrooms on Friday.
Picasso’s “Women of Algiers, version O” became the most expensive work of art to be sold at auction when it went for $179m at Christie’s New York sale in May.
Most of the roughly 30 significant paintings from the blue period, which lasted just three years, are held by museums. Only four have appeared on the market in the past 28 years.
This will also be the first time members of the public will have a chance to see a second image, painted on the back of the canvas, which was discovered in 2000. Like many impecunious artists of the time, the young Picasso would save money by recycling his canvases, creating fresh images on the reverse or painting over an existing work.
The hidden image is a playful portrait of Pere Mañach, a fellow Catalan based in Paris who organised Picasso’s first show, lived with him briefly in the capital and helped to sell his work. It depicts him as an Indian godlike figure, wearing a turban and necklaces decorating his naked body, alongside an inscription presenting the painting as a gift to the Spaniard.
The painting is being sold by Bill Koch, the US billionaire and industrialist, who bought it at a Sotheby’s auction for £1.4m in 1984, including the buyer’s premium. An earlier owner was the Austrian-American film-maker Josef von Sternberg, who “discovered” the actress Marlene Dietrich and cast her in his 1930 hit The Blue Angel — her character Lola Lola, a cabaret singer and femme fatale, typifying the debauched, demimonde aura of “La Gommeuse”.
Simon Shaw, Sotheby’s global co-head of impressionist and modern art, said: “The blue period is the holy grail for collectors at the highest levels because it is the first time that [Picasso] really finds his own vision — his interest in sex and death and the themes that will underline his career for the next seven decades.”
“La Gommeuse” will be on display in London until October 15 before going under the hammer in New York on November 5.