Battle of the Picasso paintings

The depictions painted on sucessive days are set to be auctioned

Sotheby’s is selling Homme à l’épée, painted on 25 July 1969, with a suggested price tag of between £6m and £8m at its annual summer sale of Impressionist and modern art.

Christie’s will sell a work of the same title, painted the following day, for between £5m and £7m at its summer sale.

The battle of the Picasso works – described by experts as “a remarkable coincidence” – illustrates the continued demand for collectable paintings despite the impact of the credit crunch on the value of some modern art. The average auction price of contemporary art has fallen 76.2 per cent since May 2008, according to analysts ArtTactic.

The paintings, part a series depicting a musketeer, were created by the artist four years before his death and reflect his Old Master influences, Rembrandt and Velázquez.

The Sotheby’s painting was chosen by Picasso to be on the poster for an exhibition of his later works in Avignon in 1970 and has never before been sold at auction.

The Christie’s painting, which is six inches bigger at 63in by 51in, was bought by a London art collector in 2005 for £2.7 million, and is expected to have doubled in value over the four years.

“Picasso was the greatest artist of the 20th century and the musketeer paintings illustrate his confidence,” said Melanie Clore, co-chairman and head of Impressionist and Modern Art at Sotheby’s. “It is a monumental and powerful work and anticipated so much of the contemporary art that followed it.”

She added that the parallel sale of the two paintings was “a remarkable coincidence” but that interest in Picasso’s musketeer paintings had been heightened by a recent exhibition of other artist’s other work at the National Gallery in London.

The Spanish artist, who died in April 1973 aged 91, was not alone in producing a series of very similar paintings. Monet’s Water Lillies series contains about 250 paintings featuring the surface of a pond.

Christie’s sale also includes work by Joan Miró, Marcel Duchamp, Henri Matisse and René Magritte as well as Au Parc Monceau, a Monet expected to make up to £4.5 million.

Sotheby’s sale also includes a Monet, Giacometti, Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec.

Picasso’s late series is thought to have been inspired by his reading of Alexander Dumas’s classic historical romance, The Three Musketeers, during a hospital stay in 1965 during which he underwent surgery on an ulcer.

His vigorous, intense late works did not receive immediate critical acclaim but have since become more popular. The painter defended his later style saying: “When I was a child, I could draw like Raphael, but it took me a lifetime to draw like a child.”


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