At an eventful beginning to the year’s high-end art auctions, Pablo Picasso’s Femme Au Beret Et A La Robe Quadrille (Woman in beret and plaid dress) – a portrait of his model and lover Marie-Therese Walter – went for the highest price of the night at £49,827,000.

The stunning price tag makes the painting the most expensive ever sold in British pounds at any European auction.

It continues a trend of strong overall results at recent fine art auctions.
 

The portrait, from 1937, had never gone to auction before and offers an insight into Picasso’s often turbulent personal life.

Its central focus is a striking, angular depiction of his muse, but the work also includes a shadow creeping into view, thought to refer to the increased importance of new flame Dora Maar in his life.
 

“It must be painful for a girl to see in a painting that she is on the way out,” Picasso was quoted as saying. The portrait was produced in a particularly inspired stretch of Picasso’s career.

In the same year, he painted the epic mural Guernica, widely considered his masterpiece. Bloomberg has reported the painting was acquired by Gurr Johns, an art acquisition and appraisal firm.

It had been offered for sale by an unidentified member of the Picasso family.

Top sellers

Pablo Picasso

  • Artwork: Femme Au Beret
  • Year: 1937
  • Auction price (£): 49,827,000
  • Artwork: Le Matador
  • Year: 1970
  • Auction price (£): 16,521,000

Andre Derain

  • Artwork: Bateaux A Collioure
  • Year: 1905
  • Auction price (£): 10,876,500

Umberto Boccioni

  • Artwork: Testa + Luce + Ambiente
  • Year: 1912
  • Auction price (£): 9,070,100

Alberto Giacometti

  • Artwork: Lustre Avec Femme, Homme Et Oiseau (bronze chandelier)
  • Year:Circa 1949-1952
  • Auction price (£): 7,602,400

 
Another interesting Picasso to go under the hammer was Le Matador, which also made its auction debut. The painting had not been exhibited since 1973, the year of the artist’s death.
 

Helena Newman, Global Co-Head of Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art Department and Chairman of Sotheby’s Europe, said Le Matador “represents the culmination of a life-long obsession”.
 

“Through the subject of the bullfight, Picasso explores the theme of life and death, creation and destruction, earth and sun, casting himself at the centre stage of the spectacle.”
 

A total of four Picasso works sold on the night. The oil on canvas work Tete de Femme, a portrait of his second wife Jacqueline Roque, went for £6,360,500. Deux Femmes Assises (Recto) Etude Pour L’Offrande (Verso), a work which shows the growing influence of tribal art on his style, fetched £1,089,000.
 

The auction also featured a four-way bidding war for Marc Chagall’s Le Village Bleu. It was anticipated the painting would attract bids between £1.5 and £2.5 million. It eventually sold for £3,650,900.


 

The result continued strong interest in the Russian–French artist’s voluminous folk-inspired canon. He produced more than 10,000 artworks during his lengthy career.

Claude Monet was another iconic name in the lot. His La Porte Du Jardin A Vetheuil (The Garden Gate in Vetheuil) sold for £3,086,400. The work depicts the idyllic riverside village where Monet lived with his family and patrons from 1878 to 1881.

Elsewhere in the auction, Vincent Van Gogh’s watercolour and pencil sketch of the view from his studio in The Hague went for a relatively modest £465,000.
 

Some other high-profile works, including a bronze sculpture by Rodin which depicts characters from Dante’s The Divine Comedy and an impressionist landscape by Camille Pisarro were passed in on the night.