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Picasso's 'Buste de Femme' auctioned in Germany

Sabine Oelze | Louisa Schaefer
June 5, 2023

A late work by Pablo Picasso, a portrait of his second wife, sold for €3.4 million ($3.65 million) at an auction in Germany — significantly more than expected.

Picasso's 'Buste de femme' from 1971 on show at the Van Ham auction house in Cologne, with woman walking by the painting.
Pablo Picasso's 'Buste de Femme' was painted in 1971Image: Federico Gambarini/dpa/picture alliance

In 1971, two years before his death, Pablo Picasso created the painting "Buste de Femme." Art historians identified the woman in the painting as Picasso's second wife, Jacqueline Roque.

Now, that painting has garnered €3.4 million ($3.65 million): on Monday, it was sold at the the Cologne auction house Van Ham in Cologne.

The work was originally expected to fetch between €1.5 to 2.4 million ($1.6 to 2.6 million). But even at €3.4 million, it was still a bargain compared to the record-breaking $179.4 million dollars (some €160 million euros) paid for Picasso's "The Women of Algiers" in 2015. 

The auction house launched a PR campaign to try to drive up the price of "Buste de Femme," displaying the work in Berlin, Munich and Hamburg before the auction. According to Van Ham, it was the first time in nearly 25 years that a major work by Picasso went up for auction in Germany. 

The painting of Roque was originally from her estate, but was auctioned on behalf of a German private collector.

Roque devoted to Picasso

Picasso and Roque met in 1953, and Roque, who was born in France in 1927, was more than 40 years younger than the Spanish-born artist. They married following the death of the painter's first wife, Olga Khokhlova.

Picasso depicted Roque, with her thick dark hair and classically Mediterranean facial features, more often any of his numerous mistresses or his other wife.

None of her predecessors devoted their lives as fully to Picasso as Roque did. She moved back to France in 1954 and was at his side almost constantly until his death on April 8, 1973, which left her utterly bereft.

Emaciated and severely depressed, she took her own life 13 years later. Roque had worshipped Picasso and called him her "sun." At the time of her suicide, Roque was 59 years old.


Picasso used his power 

2023 marks the 50th anniversary of Pablo Picasso's death, and museums around the world are paying tribute with exhibitions. But the celebrations have also increasingly focused on the Spanish-born artist's relationships with his wives and mistresses.

Only now in the wake of the #MeToo movement and a new wave of self-assertion among women  is new focus being paid to the ways in which Picasso exploited his power and influence with women. 

The artist himself made no secret of that: he once said he divided women into goddesses and doormats, and almost all of the women in his life underwent this shift at some point. But now, on the occasion of the landmark year, new books and exhibitions are drawing attention to it as well. As a result, some art connoisseurs viewing Picasso differently. 

This article was originally written in German and published on June 5, 2023. It was updated on June 6, 2023 to reflect the auction price.

DW Editor and reporter Louisa Schaefer smiling into the camera.
Louisa Schaefer Culture editor and reporter based in Cologne/Bonn, originally from the US