Picasso’s paintings of his mistress Marie-Therese are among the most tender images of love in twentieth-century art, while Schiele’s drawings of his mistress Wally are among the most tormented. Magnificent examples of both are on public view at Sotheby’s Bond Street this week (until 5 Feb) – run, don’t walk, to see them in the saleroom before they vanish into a private collection.
I asked Helena Newman, Chairman of Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Department Europe, to tell me the stories behind the Picasso and the Schiele works. She also gave me a tour of other highlights from the Impressionist/Modern sale, also on view until 5 February.
Schiele’s gouache double portrait of himself with Wally is a spine-tingling work – its lines seem to move of their own accord and the intense, evocative colours blend the two figures into one, expressing the pathos and passion of the end of their affair in a single vision. This electric work, along with an erotic drawing and a stunning self-portrait, is being sold by the Leopold Museum in Vienna – one of the pre-eminent collections of Austrian art of this period – to settle a restitution claim.
The painting of Marie-Therese is from 1932, the year Picasso made his affair with the young Swede public in a sumptuous exhibition filled with sensual portraits of her. (see RA Magazine Winter 2010)
Picasso incised the black, drawn outline of her figure with his paintbrush, creating an almost sculptural female form from which the colours seem to pulsate.
More of my favourites from Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art sale included a late Monet painting of waterlillies at Giverny, reminiscent of the quasi-abstract paintings of this scene shown in the RA’s ‘Late Monet’ show, as well as two jaw-dropping painterly pastels by Degas of his key themes, the dancer and the bather.
Another, more surprising view of Giverny in the Frost (see right) is a wonderful study of white on white from the collection of the Earl of Jersey, a rare British Impressionist collection, that also includes work by Sisley and Henri Edmond Cross.