Picasso’s Les Femmes D’Alger sets new auction record

It had to be Picasso. On May 11th, at Christie’s Evening Sale Looking Forward To the Past, the artist’s Les Femmes D’Alger, (Women of Algiers), Version O, went under the hammer for $179 million (approximately £115 million). It is now the most expensive work of art to be sold at auction.
That former accolade belonged to Francis Bacon, whose Three Studies of Lucien Freud took the record back in November 2013 (selling for £89 million). However, it took just over 11 minutes to bring that 18-month tenure to a spectacular end.
The oil painting, which was executed in 1955, is part of a series of works – 15 in total – that Picasso made in response to Eugène Delacroix’s painting Women of Algiers in their Apartment (1834). Each was designated a letter, from A to O.
This version is characterised by its energetic palette, from which he has composed, in a cubist manner, a number of colourful nude courtesans. The curator of the sale, Loic Gouzer, international specialist of post-war and contemporary art at Christie’s, said: “In today’s fast-paced world. It is remarkable to think that Picasso’s Les femmes d’Alger exhibits as much freshness of perspective and approach as it did when it was painted.”
His colleague, Olivier Camu, deputy chairman of impressionist and modern art, added that the painting was “the culmination of a herculean project”, which the artist had started not long after fellow artist Henri Matisse had passed away.
He said: “[It was] in homage to his lost friend and competitor, and which over a period of two months and after nearly 100 studies on paper and 14 other paintings led to the creation of this phenomenal canvas in February 1955.”
As to why the painting sold for so much – it was also another remarkable sale for Christie’s as a whole, with the auction house achieving £458,051,914 in total sales – experts argue that it is to do with art’s rapid ascent as an investment item.
In particular, over the last few years, especially since the financial crash of 2008, traditional investors and high net worth individuals have been turning their attention towards the art world. While it has always been a lively market, it has certainly seen a marked change, with blockbuster sales like this becoming more commonplace.
And, as Richard Feigen, a prominent New York-based art dealer, discussed in an interview with the Associated Press, this is the new norm: “I don’t really see an end to it, unless interest rates drop sharply, which I don’t see happening in the near future.”
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