Yes, that’s right. Over $106 million. By an anonymous bidder. It’s over 100 times more than what we should write about here on this blog, but it is such a stunning auction event that we had to share it. So here it goes:
Pablo Picasso’s painting: “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust” sold for $106,482,500 by Christie’s at the “Property from the Collection of Mrs. Sidney F. Brody” auction on May 4. There were other stunning sales but this one clearly stands out.
Property from the Collection of Mrs. Sidney F. Brody
Picasso’s Nude, Green Leaves and Bust
by John Richardson
His fiftieth birthday on October 1, 1931 came as a tremendous challenge to Picasso: a challenge so productive that the six months before and the six months after constitute an annus mirabilis. In the spring of 1931, he revolutionised sculpture and in the winter that followed he revolutionised our perception of that most basic subject of western art: the seated woman.
The fact that Picasso’s first full-scale retrospective was looming made the challenge all the more daunting. The show was due to open in June 1932 at Paris’s grandiose yet anything but avant-garde exhibition space, the Galerie Georges Petit. The contrast accentuated the shock of Picasso’s work. This show would have world-wide repercussions; and would establish Picasso as the greatest modern artist.
Like this great Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, the paintings in this dazzling series portray Picasso’s beautiful blond mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter, an innocent open-air girl with whom he had fallen obsessively in love, after picking her up outside the Galeries Lafayette, five years before. This simple, sweet-natured girl would remain passionately in love with him long after his affairs with other mistresses. His death would leave her so bereft that she would commit suicide.
Since Picasso was married to an exceedingly jealous and increasingly neurasthenic Russian ballerina he had been at pains to keep Marie-Thérèse hidden in art as well as in life, the earliest references to her are in code: transformed into a bowl of fruit, or a vase of flowers and, on occasion his own penis. However, in the present painting he turned for inspiration to classical mythology.
Picasso had already used the philodendron leaves in the greatest of his welded sculptures Woman in the Garden of 1929 (fig. A) which represents Marie-Thérèse as the nymph Daphne being metamorphosed into a bush. The philodendron leaves sprouting from Marie-Thérèse’s side in Nude, Green Leaves and Bust can also be identified as Daphne. Apropos his penchant for the philodendron plant whose baroque tendrils animate other compositions in this series, notably the second version of this painting (fig. 5), painting two days later, where the arm of the sleeping nymph is turned into a lily.
As Picasso told Penrose, he admired this plant for its “overwhelming vitality”: “He once left one that had been given him in Paris in the bathroom, where it would be sure to have plenty of water while he was away in the south. On his return he found that it had completely filled the little room with luxuriant growth and also completely backed the drain with its roots” (J. Richardson, Life of Picasso, vol. III, p. 443).
Besides this painting and the Nue au fauteuil noir, this series consists of other such masterpieces as The Dream (fig. 3), MOMA’s Girl in Front of a Mirror (fig. 4), and Girl with a Flower (fig. B), which brings this series to an end on 10 April 1932.
For all this painting’s enormous importance Zervos did not include it in his catalogue. The reason? When it came back after the 1932 retrospective, Picasso apparently asked his dealer Paul Rosenberg, who lived next door, to allow him to hang it in his own apartment, as we know from Cecil Beaton’s 1933 photograph (fig. 1)–a photograph that used to be the only evidence scholars had of Nude, Green Leaves and Bust. This explains why it was never requested for subsequent retrospectives, it was however include in Paul Rosenberg’s 1936 show of recent work.
The outbreak of World War II closed Rosenberg’s Paris gallery. In May 1940, before escaping to New York, the dealer had hidden his stock and extensive private collection in three separate places: a rented house and bank near to Bordeaux, as well as a warehouse at Tours, under the name of a non-Jewish employee. The first two hideaways were looted by the Nazis. The warehouse, where Nude, Green Leaves and Bust was stored, was left untouched.
After re-opening his Paris gallery Rosenberg sold the painting to the Brodys in 1951; the California branch of an extended family who were amongst the most prominent American collectors of impressionist and post-impressionist art in the mid 20th century. Frances Brody was the daughter of Albert D. Lasker, the founder of modern advertising. Her step-mother was the grande-dame and philanthropist, Mary Lasker, whose New York drawing room was famed for its superb collection of Matisse paintings.
The first and only time this painting was exhibited in the United States was in a 1961 show, entitled Bonne Fête Monsieur Picasso in the UCLA Art Galleries, Los Angeles, to commemorate the eightieth anniversary of his birth. Ironically, this painting which celebrates the feminine submissiveness was executed on International Woman’s Day; this would have delighted Picasso.