Picasso's portrait of Françoise Gilot poised to sell for US$12.8m at Sotheby's 50th Anniversary Evening Sale in Hong Kong

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Sotheby’s in Asia, as well as in commemoration of 50 years after the passing of Pablo Picasso, this spring season Sotheby's Hong Kong will bring a fresh-to-market masterpiece by the great artist, Femme dans un fauteuil, to its marquee Modern Art Evening Sale on 5 April.

Expected to fetch in excess of HK$100 million (around US$12.8 million), the headline piece is a vivid portrait of his muse and partner of a decade – the French painter Françoise Gilot, widely known as the only woman who dared love Picasso and leave him.

Lot 1032 | Pablo Picasso | Femme dans un fauteuil, Oil on canvas
Executed on 30 October and 25 December 1948
92 x 73 cm

  • Estate of the artist
  • Marina Picasso (the artist's granddaughter; by descent from the above)
  • Galerie Jan Krugier, Geneva
  • Galerie Beyeler, Basel 
  • Private Collection, Japan (acquired from the above in 1987)
  • Galerie Beyeler, Basel 
  • Russeck Gallery, Palm Beach
  • Distinguished Private Collection (acquired from the above in 2006) 

Estimate upon request (Expected to fetch in excess of HK$100 million)

Praised today as one of the most important artists of the 20th century, Picasso's relationship with women are intricately woven into his art – his artistic style would undergo a radical change when a new muse entered his life. 

Having left behind the sensual, dream-like portraits of Marie-Thérèse Walter and the distorted depictions of Dora Maar as the Weeping Woman, Picasso found a new style influenced by Françoise Gilot's youth and creative energy, characterized by a certain calm elegance and poise.

The 21-year-old Gilot and 61-year-old Picasso crossed paths in May 1943, when the giant of art was still entangled in a turbulent relationship with Dora Maar. Despite so, the two were head over heels in love with each other, and together they settled in Vallauris in the south of France in 1946. 

The period that followed, until 1953, was marked by great personal fulfilment, during which Picasso was devoted to his family, including the couple's two children, Claude and Paloma. This happiness in private life spilled into the artist's work, resulting in a number of portraits of his lover and their children.

Picasso and Gilot spent a decade together

Gilot is wearing the polish coat given to her by Picasso at the Cannes Film Festival in 1953

Femme dans un fauteuil, Picasso's richly coloured and joyful portrait of Gilot, was completed on Christmas Day of 1948, not long after Picasso returned from the first World Peace Congress in Wroclaw in 1948.

At the time, Gilot was pregnant with the couple's second child, and yet Picasso had left her alone for several weeks. As a gift of appeasement, he got back to Vallauris with an exquisite embroidered red jacket, which Gilot was seen wearing on occasions. 

The brightly coloured garment inspired a series of portraits of Gilot during these months, including the present lot and Femme au chignon dans un fauteuil which sold for US$29.9 million at Sotheby's New York in 2015, as well as a small group of prints that the artist completed in the year after.

Having abandoned the monochrome palettes that dominated his output during the early 1940s, Picasso embraced a brighter and livelier colour scheme in these paintings. The present portrait, for instance, sees the rich red of the jacket complement the deep green of the armchair, and the warm expanse of yellow orange hues offset the cooler blue tones.

Pablo Picasso | Femme au chignon dans un fauteuil (1948), Oil on canvas | Sold: US$29.9 million, Sotheby's New York, 2015

The present lot

Gilot has always been much more than merely Picasso's muse and companion. Before she met Picasso, she was already a talented and successful artist in her own right and she continued to work in her own distinct style throughout their relationship and after their separation. The fact that she is the only woman who ever dared to leave Picasso also attests to her strength of character. 

In her candid memoir Life with Picasso, Gilot writes that Picasso once said to her, “I don’t see you seated. You’re not at all the passive type. I only see you standing.”

While Picasso often depicted his muses seated in an armchair, her position is one that exudes power. Depicting the strong woman almost like a Renaissance Queen on her throne, the artist attributes his lover with a regal quality that is heightened by the extravagance of her outfit, the full frontal way that the sitter looks out at the viewer and the strength of line with which Picasso delineates her. 

Other Highlight Lots:

Lot 1025 | Zao Wou-ki | 25.03.85, Oil on canvas
Executed on 25 March 1985
130 x 162 cm

  • Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York (acquired from the artist)
  • Galerie Artcurial, Paris 
  • Private Collection
  • Christie's, Hong Kong, 25 May 2009, Lot 918 (consigned by the above)
  • Private Asian Collection (acquired from the above) 

Estimate: HK$38,000,000 - 58,000,000 (US$4.8 - 7.4 million)

Lot 1030 | Joan Miró | Sans titre, Oil on canvas
Executed on 12 October 1947
91.5 x 121.7 cm

  • Thomas and Diane Bouchard, New York (acquired directly from the artist on 12 October 1947)
  • Sotheby's, New York, 7 May 2014, Lot 19 (consigned by the above)
  • Private Asian Collection (acquired from the above)

Estimate: HK$32,000,000 - 50,000,000 (US$4.1 - 6.4 million)

Lot 1024 | Zao Wou-ki | 11.08.99 - Après l'éclipse, Oil on canvas
Executed on 11 August 1999
250 x 200 cm

  • New York, Marlborough Gallery
  • Private Asian Collection (acquired from the above)

Estimate: HK$30,000,000 - 50,000,000 (US$3.8 - 6.4 million)

Lot 1033 | Pablo Picasso | Homme portant un enfant, Oil on canvas
Executed on 22 February 1995
100 x 81.5 cm

  • Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris (acquired by 1966)
  • Mr and Mrs William Falencki, New York (acquired from the above on 11 January 1968)
  • John J. Falencki, New York (acquired as a gift from the above and until 2004)
  • Private Collection, Switzerland (acquired by descent from the above)
  • Russeck Gallery, Palm Beach (consigned by the above)
  • Distinguished Private Collection (acquired from the above in 2005)

Estimate: HK$25,000,000 - 40,000,000 (US$3.2 - 5.1 million)

Auction Details: 

Auction House: Sotheby's Hong Kong 
Sale: 50th Anniversary Modern Evening Auction
Date and Time: 5 April 2023 | 5:00 pm (Hong Kong local time)
Venue: Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC)
Number of Lots: 38