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updated: 1/14/2013 12:14 PM

Picasso portrait of lover boosts $240 million Sotheby's auction

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Bloomberg News

A Pablo Picasso painting of his lover Marie-Therese Walter is estimated to sell for as much as $56 million at an auction next month in London.

The artist's canvas "Femme assise pres d'une fenetre," showing a serene Marie-Therese seated in a black armchair, is among 61 works being offered by Sotheby's in its Feb. 5 auction of Impressionist, modern and Surrealist art. The auction is valued at as much as 149 million pounds ($240 million).

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The young blonde is described in biographies as the married artist's mistress, model and muse. Picasso's paintings of her have become wealthy art collectors' ultimate early-20th-century trophies. The 1932 Marie-Therese canvas "Nude, Green Leaves and Bust" fetched $106.5 million -- then a record for any artwork at auction -- at Christie's International, New York, in May 2010.

This latest painting from the series to appear at auction was made by Picasso at his rural retreat, the Chateau de Boisgeloup, near Gisors, northwest of Paris, on Oct. 30, 1932. The country house was a favorite venue for trysts with Marie- Therese.

The work is entered from a European private collection and has a formal valuation of 25 million pounds to 35 million pounds, based on hammer prices. It was last seen on the auction market in 1997 and is guaranteed to sell courtesy of a third- party "irrevocable" bid, Sotheby's said.

Chance Meeting

The 45-year-old Picasso, then unhappily married to Olga Khokhlova, met his blonde girlfriend by chance on the streets of Paris in 1927. Marie-Therese was 17 at the time. She remained close to the artist until about 1935. For years he gave her and their daughter financial support.

Khokhlova found out about the affair when portraits of Marie-Therese were hung with Cubist and Surrealist works in a Picasso retrospective at the Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, according to the Sotheby's catalog.

The auction also includes the Claude Monet water-lily painting "Nympheas avec reflets de Hautes Herbes." The work dates from 1914-17 and is estimated at 12 million pounds to 18 million pounds.

The earlier Monet snow scene, "Le Givre a Giverny," from 1885, has emerged from the English collection of the late Earl of Jersey, who acquired it from a London dealer in 1943. It is now valued at 4 million pounds to 6 million pounds.

Joan Miro's 1945 canvas "Femme revant de l'evasion," related to the Spanish Surrealist artist's "Constellation" series of a few years earlier, is from the U.S.-based collection of Miriam and Ira D. Wallach. The work hasn't been seen on the market for more than 50 years and is priced at 8 million pounds to 12 million pounds.

The sale has a lower total formal estimate of 103.1 million pounds.

(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Elin McCoy on wine and Jeremy Gerard on New York theater.

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