Late- autumn means one thing for the art world: the New York auctions at Sotheby’s and Christie’s. This year’s highlights include the auctioning of two masterpieces, both estimated to sell for over $35 million. The first piece, by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, is a depiction of his lover and oft muse Marie-Thérèse Walter executed in his famous cubist style. The artwork, ‘Nature morte aux tulips’ (still life with tulips) was painted in 1932 and is considered by art experts to be a significant piece by the artist. Picasso engaged in an illustrious affair with Walter during the 1930s, fathering a child and depicting her in his work many times. Previous paintings of Marie-Thérèse have fared well at the auction house; in 2010, ‘Nu au Plateau de Sculpteur’ fetched $106. Art collectors seem attracted to paintings of Marie-Thérèse; they are not only buying a Picasso, they are buying a piece of his life, his romance, and his passion.
Attention this season will also go towards the auctioning of Andy Warhol’s 1962 piece ‘Statue of Liberty’. It is typical Warhol: images repeated over a large board using the ‘screen-print’ technique with simplistic and bold colours. The artist is most famous for his works depicting celebrities (particularly Marilyn Monroe), and consumer items (notably the Campbell’s Soup tins). He fits into a very broad artistic genre known as ‘Pop Art’ (‘popular art’) which was at its height during the 1960s. Warhol’s work generally questions the way we look at celebrity culture, consumerism and American values. In this case, the Statue of Liberty is the quintessential American image, and is particularly poignant to the artist himself: Warhol’s parents immigrated to the states from Slovakia. The painting represents all of America’s ideals: freedom, hope, liberty; it inspired every migrant who sailed past it into New York.
It is interesting that focus in this years’ auction is directed at Warhol and Picasso; two artists who became obscenely rich in their lifetime. So rich, it is said that in his later years, Picasso carried a large suitcase with him, filled with money. This is opposed to other artists, such as Van Gogh, who made nothing from their work, despite it being sold for millions a century later. Art auctions are a saddening, but necessary facet of the art world. It is depressing that some buyers purchase beautiful masterpieces, merely to store them in vault, for art is just a financial investment and commodity to them. Let us hope that whoever buys these beautiful pieces will give them the exposure they deserve.