Sotheby’s to sell 11 works in Bellagio hotel and casino, in one of most valuable Picasso auctions yet
Las Vegas: the city of sin, where you can gamble away your savings, get married on a whim, dine on an octuple bypass burger at the Heart Attack Grill – and soon, it has been announced, take part in one of the most valuable Picasso auctions ever staged.
Sotheby’s has announced it is to sell 11 Picasso works owned by MGM Resorts, which have a combined value of about $100m (£72m).
Inevitably, it comes with razzmatazz. The plan is to recreate Sotheby’s famous New York auction room in the Bellagio, the vast hotel and casino with more than 3,000 rooms and almost as many slot machines, poker tables and roulette wheels.
The Bellagio, famous for its musical fountain show and a starring role in the movie Ocean’s Eleven, has always had one of the city’s best art galleries. Many of the Picassos being sold hang in the hotel’s “Picasso” restaurant.
Ari Kastrati, the chief hospitality officer of MGM Resorts, said it promised to be a “momentous auction”. It was selling in order to buy new, more diverse art, he added. “We are committed to creating an even more inclusive collection that maintains the breadth of our existing portfolio while giving a greater voice to artists from underrepresented communities.”
One of the auction highlights will be Femme au Béret Rouge-Orange, painted in 1938 and one of Picasso’s final works depicting his muse and lover Marie-Thérèse Walter. It is being sold with an estimate of $20-30m.
Picasso was 45 and unhappily married when he spotted Walter, then 17, at the Galeries Lafayette department store in Paris in 1927. “Mademoiselle, you have an interesting face. I would like to paint your portrait,” he said. “I’m sure we shall do great things together. I am Picasso,” he added, to someone who had no idea who that was.
The chance meeting and subsequent affair was effectively Picasso being reborn, his grandson Olivier Widmaier Picasso has said. His Walter paintings were an important part of the 1932 Paris retrospective, which established Picasso as the most famous and controversial artist in the world.
One of those was Le Rêve, which has its own place in Las Vegas and art history because it was owned by the casino owner Steve Wynn, who in 2006 was due to sell it to the hedge fund mogul Steven Cohen for a world record $139m.
Heart-stoppingly, Wynn accidentally jabbed it with his elbow while showing it off to friends. There was a ripping sound. The six-inch tear was repaired but its value went down an estimated $54m. It was eventually bought by Cohen in 2013 for $155m.
By 1938, Picasso was in love with the photographer Dora Maar and was effectively living a double life romantically. Sotheby’s said a portrait of Walter from that year was “exceedingly rare”.
Also in the sale will be two of Picasso’s larger paintings from between 1969 and 1970 – Homme et Enfant ($20-30m) and Buste d’Homme ($10-15m). Both were included in a 1970 exhibition at the Palais des Papes in Avignon, probably the most important exhibition of his late career.
Another highlight is Nature Morte au Panier de Fruits et aux Fleurs, which comes with an estimate of $10-15m. A still life, it was painted by Picasso in 1942 during the Nazi occupation of Paris when he was barred from exhibiting work.
The auction on 23 October will be the biggest fine art auction to have ever taken place in Las Vegas and will be accompanied by a four-day exhibition of “the world’s finest luxury items”.
Precise details have not yet been revealed but the items would include cars, jewellery, watches, handbags, trainers and more, the auction house said. They will then be sold at the end of October.
Brooke Lampley, the worldwide head of fine art sales at Sotheby’s, said her team could not wait to “bring the magic of a Sotheby’s evening sale to Las Vegas” for the first time. “As one of the most famous, beloved and accomplished artists of all time, we couldn’t imagine anyone better than Picasso to inaugurate this unique art and culture experience.”