Pablo Picasso donation earns millions for University of Sydney

LONDON – An important and rarely-seen masterpiece by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) sold at Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale June 21, 2011 for $21,866,588. “Jeune fille endormie,” 1935, is an intimate portrait of the artist’s lover Marie-Thérèse Walter, the subject of many of Picasso’s most celebrated pictures, and had been expected to realize $14.37 million to $19.16 million.

Having resided in just two private collections since it was painted, “Jeune fille endormie” was given to the University of Sydney in 2010 by an anonymous donor on condition that it would be sold and that the University would dedicate the proceeds to scientific research. It was acquired by an anonymous bidder.

“We are thrilled to have realized a strong price for Sydney University’s Picasso,” said Giovanna Bertazzoni, director and head of Impressionist and Modern Art at Christie’s London, “especially knowing that the proceeds will benefit such a worthy cause. It is an absolute jewel of painting that has been unseen, hidden in a private collection, for over 60 years. It has been hugely exciting to exhibit this painting to the public in Hong Kong and London over recent months, where it has attracted great praise, and to see it attract such strong interest from collectors at this evening’s auction.”

Dr Michael Spence, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney: “When they gave us this remarkable work our donor said ‘this painting is going to change the lives of many people.’ They were right. We are grateful for their extraordinary generosity and delighted with the outcome of the auction.”

Picasso met Marie-Thérèse Walter in 1927 when he was 45 and she was just 17. She recalled the meeting; “I had gone shopping to the Galeries Lafayette and Picasso saw me coming out of the Métro. He simply grabbed me by the arm and said “I’m Picasso! You and I are going to do great things together.”” (Life, December 1968).

In the early 1930s Picasso purchased a country home, the Château de Boisgeloup, where he and Marie-Thérèse were able to spend more time together in seclusion. This spawned a period of frenzied and inspired artistic activity when the artist created a string of masterpieces, many of which now hold prominent places in museum collections around the world. “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust,” another portrait of Marie-Thérèse, sold at Christie’s in May 2010 for $106.5 million – a world record price for any work of art sold at auction.

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