The first Pablo Picasso coloured crayon drawing to be auctioned in South Africa, which has an estimated value of R3 to R3.5 million, will go on the auction block at the Stephan Welz & Co. Fine and Decorative Arts Sale on Tuesday 7 June, at 19h00. 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, said Anton Welz, Auctioneer at Stephan Welz & Co.
It was a Picasso that fetched the highest price ever paid for an artwork at an auction: his 1955 painting Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’), which sold for $179.4 million at a Christie’s auction in 2015. Auction sales for Picasso in 2015 totalled $652.9 million and in 2014, sales of Picassos were second only to those of Andy Warhol — $449 million in a $16.1 billion international market, according to Artnet, the New York-based art researcher.
“Picasso’s works on paper have great allure to collectors,” said Welz, who referenced the 2014 Sotheby’s White-Glove Sale of the private collection of legendary art dealer Jan Krugier, which was called “the greatest collection of works on paper,” by Sothebys Chairman, Impressionist & Modern Art, Europe, Helena Newman. The group was led by Pablo Picasso’s Composition au Minotaure which sold for £10,386,500 / $16,943,497 (with an estimate of £1.8-2.5m): a record price for a work on paper.
As for Au Cirque, the work coming up for sale in Cape Town, this is not its first time at auction. It was first sold by Sothebys New York in 1990 for $154 000. In 2006 it sold for $240 000 at another Sothebys Impressionist sale in New York. “Given the favourable ZAR Rand and US $ exchange rate, this could prove a massive draw card to both local and international bidders,” said Welz.
With any work of this calibre, provenance is key and in the case of Au Cirque, its roots 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. Saidenberg held its first exclusive Picasso exhibition in 1955-56 titled A Selection of 55 Drawings by Pablo Picasso 1953-54.
The painting’s subject embodies the courtly performers of the Renaissance, resurrected by Picasso for a 20th century audience. 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’ Don Quixote. Circus performers also signified for him the golden age of painting and allowed him to escape the limitations of contemporary subject matter.
The artist’s rendering of this image was also his tribute to the work of two painters he had adored throughout his life: Diego Velázquez, whose portraits of 17th century Spanish nobility and sword-wielding monarchs were sources of inspiration for the present work; and the Dutch master, Rembrandt van Rijn, whom is credited as being a key influence on Picasso’s art of this period. “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,” said Jacqueline Roque, Picasso’s second wife and muse.
Public viewing – Johannesburg and Cape Town
Pre-auction viewing is open to the public in Johannesburg at Stephan Welz & Co. Studio in Nelson Mandela Square, from Thursday 26 to Saturday 28 May, 10am – 5pm. Au Cirque will then be open to the public for viewing in Cape Town at The Great Cellar, Alphen Estate, Alphen Drive, Constantia from Wednesday 1 to Sunday 5 June, 10am – 5pm.
Catalogues will be available from both the Cape Town and Johannesburg offices as well as the Stephan Welz & Co. website www.stephanwelzandco.co.za.
Anyone who can’t attend the auction in person can bid for pieces online via art and antiques auctions portals www.the-saleroom.com and www.invaluable.com. Users of these websites can search catalogues and place their bids over the internet in real-time, with live audio and video from the auction room.