Who owns Picasso’s sculpture “Bust of a Woman”? The work is valued at more than $100 million and New York art dealer Larry Gagosian, claiming it’s his, has asked a federal court in Manhattan for a ruling against a counter claim by a British collector speaking for the Qatari royal family.
The woman in “Bust of a Woman,” currently on view in the giant show of Picasso’s sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, is Marie-Therese Walter, one of Picasso’s mistresses and models for seven years. Gagosian contends that he bought the work last year for $105.8 million from Maya Widmaier-Picasso, the now 80-year-old daughter of Marie-Therese and Picasso.
“Bustof a Woman” was first bought in 2014 by the Qatari royal family for the far lower price of $42 million. But even at that, only a payment of $6.5 million was received, which was not enough to finalize the sale. Widmaier-Picasso canceled the transaction and returned the money. Gagosian, who paid 75 percent of the purchase price so far, has asked the court how the royal family got Widmaier-Picasso’s to agree “to such an unreasonably low price.” Widmaier-Picasso’s lawyer, Sabine Cordesse, sought to cancel the sale to the royal family saying that Widmaier-Picasso didn’t have the mental capacity” at the time of the transaction “due to purported medical issues.”
The high dollar value assigned to “Bust of a Woman” may be linked to Marie-Walter’s connection to the greatest depiction of death and destruction in modern art history, “Guernica,” which Picasso painted after the death and destruction of his 7-year liaison with her. Unlike his soft portraits of her like “Bust of a Woman” when they were together, “Guernica” is packed with sharp-angles.
It’s fair to say that Picasso often reflected the ins and outs of his love life in his art making. At the end of his affair with Fernande Olivier, he painted the slaughterous study of women called “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.” Fragmented and hard-edged, the painting is a far, heartsick cry from his loving depiction of his fragile and delicate-looking portrait of Fernande Olivier.
While art historians attribute the monstrous masks on women in “Demoiselle d’Avignon” to the influence that African art had on Picasso, they overlook Picasso’s own reason for the masks, which he called “intercesseurs, mediators…” Clearly the emotional tie between Picasso and Marie-Therese transcended time. After Picasso died, she hanged herself.
And because Picasso’s art styles tie to the comings and goings of his women, “Bust of a Woman” becomes more than sentimental. It’s downright seminal.