Published: October 3, 2000
Artnet.com’s recent Picasso auction might best be described as having something for everyone: the 65 prints, ceramics and drawings offered covered a price spectrum from $1,000 to above $20,000. But what the organizers noticed, and may even have been aiming for, was the participation of beginning collectors.
“This sale saw a certain number of bidders who were clearly making their first art purchase,” noted artnet’s marketing manager, Colleen Wehle. “For example, one man asked how a work could be an original print if it was from an edition of 500.”
Such a buyer may have been interested in one of two linocut prints titled “Exposition de Vallauris.” Representatives from 1962 and 1964 editions sold for $2,200 each.
“We sold a number of linocuts that Picasso had done in the ’60s,” explains artnet’s Deborah Ripley, the specialist who organized the sale. “These are wonderful prints for beginners.”
Picasso made these linocut posters for the town of Vallauris, France, where he summered, to publicize events such as craft fairs and bullfights. He would gouge his design on a piece of rubber, ink it and apply paper. Although, as Ripley notes, the posters are “really kind of crude,” it only takes a moment’s glance to agree that these images are “very bold and they’re very Picasso.”
Beginning bidders might have been responding to Ripley’s focus on enlivening the works and telling the stories behind them. “The point of the auction was to make the works come alive for collectors. If we make the works come alive for them, it is so much more interesting for them.”
On the high end of the spectrum, the sale did not include any Picasso paintings.
“They’re hard to get, and we’re trying to offer things that we have a ready market for,” said Ripley. “We haven’t successfully offered any million-dollar paintings at this point.”
She believes the auction was successful, with a lot of traffic on the site; 20 works were sold and artnet was still conducting after-sale activity on Friday.
In addition to diversity in prices and media, Ripley noted that artnet “pretty much got a spectrum of Picasso’s work, starting in the ’30s.” The works came from dealers all over the world, she reported, and with the technological aids at her disposal, she was able to put the auction together in two weeks.
Two of the earliest works offered were prints, both from editions of 250. “Scene Bachique au Minotaure” (1933), estimated at $25/30,000, sold for $27,500, matching the highest price it’s ever captured (Sotheby’s, 1989). “Faune Devoilant Une Femme” (1936), estimated at $50/55,000, brought $46,200, which Wehle describes as “respectable” considering other copies sold in May for $47,000 at Christies and $52,500 at Sotheby’s, both of which have higher buyer premiums.
Of the latter, Ripley notes, “Every serious collector collects this print. The fact that people are buying it on the Internet … It’s really amazing to me that we’re attracting this level of buyer and seller.”
These prints were both from the Vollard series, published by Ambroise Vollard between 1933 and 1936, and “showed the European mentality at the time,” says Ripley.
Picasso used Greek mythology try to come to terms with the horrors of the Second World War, she explains. “A lot of his works have a certain amount of metaphor, trying to understand these events through stories and legends.”
In “Faune Devoilant Une Femme,” she says, “You have this very hideous minotaur” – a monster with the body of a man and the head of a bull – “he’s pulled up the curtain and is staring at this beautiful sleeping baby, Europe being the sleeping baby. It’s a masterpiece of etching.”
This print came from a dealer on the East Coast and went to a dealer on the West Coast.
“Scene Bachique,” too, she says depicts a minotaur, again symbolizing destruction, looking on over a scene of pleasure.
Other noteworthy works included the ceramic “Hands with Fish” (1953), which set a new auction record at $8,250; the ceramic “Head Pitcher” (1953), with its unmistakable Picasso design, which sold for $2,090; and the print “Sur la Scene: Vieillard Barbu” (1966), which fetched $2,200.
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