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Proof of infidelity: Picasso's secret romance with teenage lover up for sale

Published time: October 07, 2012 09:01
Edited time: October 07, 2012 13:01
AFP Photo / Timothy A. Clary

AFP Photo / Timothy A. Clary

Pablo Picasso's secret affair with the young lover he was seeing while still married to his Russian wife Olga was once revealed in "Nature morte aux tulipes". The key work with a pre-sale estimate of US$35-50 million is up for grabs at an auction.

­"Nature morte aux tulipes" comes to auction from a private collection, and was last seen at auction in 2000 when it sold for over $28 million. It will be the top lot of Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale on November, 5 in New York.

Painted in 1932, the year recognized as the pinnacle of Picasso’s near-century-long productivity, "Nature morte aux tulipes" is a fusion of painting and sculpture, and is considered to be one of the artist’s most powerful representations of his secret muse, Marie-Thérèse. 

The artist-womanizer met the then-17-year-old girl in Paris, in 1927. Attracted to her blonde Nordic beauty and sexuality, Picasso was soon head over heels in love with the young lady, who would be his muse throughout nearly a decade. In the fall of 1935, the couple had a daughter, Maya.

“The young woman, with her Grecian profile and athletic, statuesque frame, inspired Picasso’s greatest achievements in a variety of media,” head of Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art department in New York, Simon Shaw, explained. 

"Nature morte aux tulipes" is exceptional within the series for its double-meditation on this subject, demonstrating the influence of Surrealism on his output: the artist builds a sculpture of Marie-Thérèse and then paints that sculpture as a sexually-charged still life, allowing him to dissect her form on many levels," he added.

"Nature morte aux tulipes" by Pablo Picasso
"Nature morte aux tulipes" by Pablo Picasso

­Throughout 1931, Picasso had been working on several monumental plaster busts that featured Marie-Thérèse's captivating profile. By the end of the year he began to blend images of the plaster sculptures into his paintings. It is his lover's highly-tactile form that has been credited as defining Picasso's key paintings of 1932.

"Nature morte aux tulipes" is also one of Picasso's signature pictures, completed in anticipation of the artist's major retrospective due to take place in the summer of 1932 in Paris and Zurich.

It was at this display that his wife, Olga Khokhlova, became aware of her husband's passionate affair, after seeing numerous references to a specific face that was clearly not her own. Until the exhibition, Picasso’s relationship with Marie-Thérèse had remained top secret. He had even purchased a house where he could spend time with his mistress. The chateau at Boisegeloup was much larger than his studio in Paris, allowing the artist to create monumental plaster busts of Marie-Thérèse.