Cape Town – An original Picasso drawing worth more than R3 million is set to go under the hammer in a first for South Africa.
The drawing, Au Cirque, is the first original Pablo Picasso coloured crayon drawing to be auctioned in South Africa. Unveiled to media on Tuesday, it will be open for viewing before the Stephan Welz & Co. Fine and Decorative Arts sale on Tuesday, June 7.
Anton Welz, auctioneer at Stephan Welz & Co, is expecting the artwork to pique the interest of collectors from around the world.
“Au Cirque, a 1954 work by the iconic Spanish Cubist, will no doubt garner strong international interest and heat up the auction floor, with Picasso works at the top of the art market and often setting a precedent for bids on other works for sale,” he said.
A Picasso painting holds the record for the highest price for an artwork at an auction. Last year, his 1955 Les Femmes d’Alger sold for $179.4m (R2.8bn) at a Christie’s auction. Picasso auction sales for last year closed at $652.8m.
“Picasso’s works on paper have great allure to collectors,” Welz said.
Au Cirque is no stranger to the auction. It has been sold twice, by Sotheby’s in New York: in 1990, for $154 000, and again in 2006 for $240 000.
Welz said the rand to dollar exchange rate – a misery for South Africans wanting to travel abroad – may prove a boon for the June auction. He said the exchange rate “could prove a massive draw card to both local and international bidders”.
Lisa van Leeuwen, spokeswoman for Stephen Welz & Co, said with any artwork of this calibre, it was important to be able to trace its provenance. Au Cirque can be traced back to Picasso’s Paris dealer, Galerie Louise Leiris.
“From there it made its way across the Atlantic to New York where it was sold to a prominent New York collector by the Saidenberg Gallery,” Van Leeuwen said. “Saidenberg held its first exclusive Picasso exhibition in 1955-56.”
The subject matter of Au Cirque (At The Circus) draws from the court performers of the Renaissance era.
“Picasso’s inspiration for itinerant figures and other masculine characters in his oeuvre can be traced to his Spanish childhood and his familiarity with Cervantes’s Don Quixote,” Van Leeuwen said.
“Circus performers also signified for him the golden age of painting and allowed him to escape the limitations of contemporary subject matter.”
Au Cirque also pays tribute to two of Picasso’s greatest influencers: Diego Velazquez and Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn.
Picasso’s second wife and muse Jacqueline Roque said: “It was through these reinterpretations and investigations of the Old Masters that Picasso reaffirmed his connection to some of the greatest painters in the history of art.”
Au Cirque will be open for viewing from June 1 to 5 at Alphen Estate in Constantia between 10am and 5pm.
A bid can be made at Alphen Estate on June 7, or follow a live video stream from the auction room and bid online via www.the-saleroom.com and www.invaluable.com.