Business spends $155m on Picasso paintings in two days

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An international art advisory firm went on a Picasso shopping spree, dropping $155m (£112) on at least 13 works in two days.

Gurr Johns, which buys and sells on behalf of clients, won four pieces by the Spanish artist, totalling £73.8m at Sotheby’s on Wednesday, according to the auction house. One day earlier, the company won at least nine other Picasso works at Christie’s, according to Baer Faxt, an art industry newsletter, to the tune of £38.9m.

The leading work of the week was a 1937 portrait of Picasso’s young muse and lover Marie-Therese Walter that fetched £49.8m, surpassing the presale estimate, at Sotheby’s. The least expensive was “Citron et verre,” a 1922 still life starring a lemon, that sold for £392,750 at Christie’s.

“I am having a hard time imagining who would want to buy so many very different quality Picassos in one spurt,” David Nash, an art dealer specialising in Impressionist and modern art, said in an email. “The real question is who was Gurr Johns buying for? And for what purpose?”

With offices from London to Los Angeles, Gurr Johns offers art valuations and appraisals, private sales and financing. It’s unclear whether the company was buying for a single client or several — and if it purchased any other Picassos at London auctions this week. Representatives for Gurr Johns didn’t return calls and emails seeking comment. The auction houses are mum.

What’s clear is that the 13 Picassos contributed significantly to the Impressionist and modern art auctions in London, which are being closely watched as the year’s first test for the high-end global art market.

They accounted for 62 per cent of Sotheby’s evening sale that reaped £118.9m, surpassing the high presale estimate. (Final prices include the auction commission; estimates don’t.) At Christie’s, they represented 34 per cent of the £114.1m tally in the Impressionist and modern art sale. The top lots at both houses were the Picasso paintings bought by Gurr Johns.

Picasso was dethroned as the most expensive artist at auction (with a $179.4 m record) in November by Leonardo Da Vinci, whose painting sold for £$450m at Christie’s.

The seller of the jewel-toned Marie-Therese portrait at Sotheby’s was a member of the Picasso family, according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because the information is private.

Estimated at about £37m, “Femme au beret et a la robe quadrillee (Marie-Therese Walter)” drew bids from several Sotheby’s staffers. The underbidder was an Asian client of Patti Wong, Sotheby’s chairman of Asia, the company confirmed.

“It’s a good kickoff for what’s undoubtedly will be a very good season,” said Helena Newman, chairman of Sotheby’s in Europe, noting continued demand for top quality art. “It’s a global market.”

Bloomberg