Harry Smith, the art advisory firm’s executive chairman and managing director, conspicuously bid a combined total of more than £100m to secure 13 works by the Spanish artist at Sotheby’s and Christie’s evening sales.
Smith would not comment or give details on which client or clients he was representing, but he said Picasso was an artist who “appeals to both new and established collectors from all over the world”.
He added: “His paintings have a regular supply to auction, which helps to keep momentum and confidence in his market, and uniquely, three of his paintings have already sold at auction for over $100m.”
The £44m muse
The most expensive of the works, and top price of the series, was Picasso’s Femme au béret et à la robe quadrille, a portrait of his muse Marie-Thérèse Walter from 1937.
It was painted just six months after he completed his seminal work, Guernica.
Offered at Sotheby’s evening sale on February 28 with an undisclosed estimate, believed to be in excess of £35m, the auctioneers had secured an irrevocable bid for the picture. That meant it was always bound to sell on the night.
It was eventually knocked down at £44m to Gurr Johns which was bidding on the phone through Sotheby’s deputy chairman for Europe Mark Poltimore, seeing off strong competition from another phone bidder operating through Patti Wong, chairman of Sotheby’s Asia.
Smith pointed out that, as well as the attractive subject, date and condition, it was rare to see a Picasso so fresh to the market.
Other Gurr Johns purchases spanned the artist’s oeuvre.
At Sotheby’s the larger and later oil on canvas, Le Matador from 1970, was knocked down to Smith at £14.5m against a £14m-18m estimate.
At Christie’s the night before, Gurr Johns bid on nine Picassos with a range of dates and styles, including the sale’s top lot Mousquetaire et nu assis from 1967. It was knocked down at £12m to Smith, who was bidding in the room.
“The market for his late works had grown hugely over the last decade,” said Smith, “and they now seem to have found their level. But any earlier works that are fresh to the market tend to attract the most attention.”