In 1971, two years before his death, Pablo Picasso created the painting “Buste de femme.” Art historians have identified the woman in the painting as Picasso’s second wife, Jacqueline Roque. That painting is now up for auction in Cologne — the first time in decades that a Picasso painting is being auctioned in Germany.
Picasso and Roque met in 1953, and Roque, who was born in France in 1927, was more than forty years younger than the Spanish-born artist Picasso. They married following the death of the painter’s first wife, Olga Khokhlova.
Picasso depicted Roque, with her thick dark hair and classically Mediterranean facial features, more often any of his numerous mistresses or his other wife.
None of her predecessors devoted their lives as fully to Picassoas Roque did. She moved back to France in 1954 and was at his side almost constantly until his death on April 8, 1973, which left her utterly bereft. Emaciated and severely depressed, she took her own life 13 years later. Roque had worshipped Picasso and called him her “sun.” At the time of her suicide, Roque was 59 years old.
‘Buste de Femmes’ from Roque’s estate
The painting of Roque is originally from her estate and will be auctioned on June 5 by the Cologne auction house Van Ham on behalf of a German private collector. It’s expected to fetch between €1.5 to 2.4 million ($1.6 to 2.6 million), a bargain compared to the record-breaking $179.4 million dollars (some €160 million euros) paid for Picasso’s “The Women of Algiers.” But that’s in part because the artist’s later works are in general less valued on the art market.
The auction house launched a PR campaign to try to drive up the price of “Buste de Femme,” displaying the work in Berlin, Munich and Hamburg before the auction. According to Van Ham, this is the first time in nearly 25 years that a major work by Picasso has gone on auction in Germany.
Picasso used his power
2023 marks the 50th anniversary of Pablo Picasso’s death, and museums around the world are paying tribute with exhibitions. But the celebrations have also increasingly focused on the Spanish-born artist’s relationships with his wives and mistresses.
Only now — in the wake of the #MeToo movement and a new wave of self-assertion among women — is new focus being paid to the ways in which Picasso exploited his power and influence with women.
The artist himself made no secret of that: he once said he divided women into goddesses and doormats, and almost all of the women in his life underwent this shift at some point. But now, on the occasion of the anniversary year, book publications and exhibitions are drawing attention to it as well. As a result, some art connoisseurs are starting to see Picasso being pulled off his pedestal.
This article was originally written in German.