People view Pablo Picasso's Les Femmes d'Alger, Version 'O', at an earlier auction. On May 18, Marina Picasso is putting an additional 111 of her grandfather’s artworks up for auction at  Sotheby’s in New York, in a sale that is expected to yield $3.3m-$4.7m. Picture: REUTERS
People view Pablo Picasso's Les Femmes d'Alger, Version 'O', at an earlier auction. On May 18, Marina Picasso is putting an additional 111 of her grandfather’s artworks up for auction at Sotheby’s in New York, in a sale that is expected to yield $3.3m-$4.7m. Picture: REUTERS

When Pablo Picasso died in 1973, he left a chunk of his estate to his granddaughter Marina Picasso. Included in her inheritance was La Californie, a colossal white villa in the south of France, with millions of dollars’ worth of art.

She has started to sell some of that art, most notably in the auction Picasso in Private, which garnered £12m at Sotheby’s in London in February 2016. On May 18, Picasso is putting an additional 111 of her grandfather’s artworks up for auction at Sotheby’s in New York, in a sale that is expected to yield $3.3m-$4.7m.

The auction comprises 64 works on paper and 47 ceramic objects, which all depict people or animals.

For anyone even glancingly familiar with the multibillion-dollar Picasso market — one of his paintings recently sold for $179m — those estimates might appear almost absurdly low, especially considering they are coming straight from the artist’s own studio.

The auction house has its reasons. Many of these artworks are studies or experiments and thus do not have an aesthetic that immediately screams Picasso, said Scott Niichel, Sotheby’s co-head of day sales for impressionist and modern art. "In some cases, unless you are quite educated in the trajectory of his career, you might not immediately recognise these works as Picassos," Niichel says, noting that other works are "quite iconic".

But those noniconic lots could serve as a deterrent to some collectors. Take a 1914 watercolour of a fish, which Niichel says is one of his favourites. Its estimate: $5,000-$7,000, about the price of a business-class flight from New York to London.

Painted at the height of Picasso’s cubist period, "it’s a very kind of realistic depiction", he says. "Works such as this one are such an aberration from what he is best known for."

Another major hurdle is that, while most of the works are dated, many of them do not carry the precious Picasso signature, which Niichel acknowledges could depress the works’ prices. Similarly, "in many of the cases with the works on paper, the dates are on the verso of the sheets, and not front and centre", a further deterrent to high-spending collectors.

"We, of course, like to set estimates that are approachable for our sales," Niichel says. "We do not want to jinx ourselves."

Most of the ceramic objects in this sale are unique objects, yet many of their estimates are well below their editioned counterparts

If the auction house were to price the lots higher, people might sit the sale out; with low estimates, collectors might bid on the objects if they think they will get a bargain.

At the prices, bargains abound, particularly for the ceramics. Picasso made more than 4,000 unique ceramic objects and chose 633 of them to turn into editions (repetitions of the same work that are numbered and limited to a certain certified quantity). Those editions have recently become hot commodities, with pieces selling for more than $230,000.

Most of the ceramic objects in this sale are unique objects, yet many of their estimates are well below their editioned counterparts: a plate depicting what appears to be an enraged owl is estimated at $18,000-$25,000; another plate with one of Picasso’s signature bulls is expected to fetch between $25,000 and $35,000.

"This is a sale where there is something for just about anyone who has an interest in Picasso," Niichel says. "And yes, of course, there are examples in the sale that might sell very, very well and go to longtime collectors. But there are also opportunities for collectors who are new to the market."

Bloomberg

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