Known for his long and passionate personal life as well as his prodigious output, Pablo Picasso has proved to be the most bankable of artists over the past 20 years.
At its spring sale of Impressionist and Modern Art on May 1 Christie's is featuring a virtual gallery of the women who figured in the Spanish artist's long life, from Marie-Therese Walter to Jacqueline Roque.
Together the six works, being sold by various owners and spanning four decades from 1932 to 1968, are expected to fetch about $30 million and could help gauge the mid-level of the market for works by the artist.
"Of all the artists we handle in Impressionist and modern, Picasso could generally be regarded as the single most commercial," said Brooke Lampley, a department specialist at the auction house.
"Recently, we've seen increasing attention to his female subjects, his paramours, as a way of understanding different periods in his career," she said.
Leading the offerings is "Deux nus couchés," a 1968 portrait of Jacqueline Roque, Picasso's second wife, which is estimated to sell for $8 million to $10 million. Christie's said it has generated great interest.
"She was his last partner, and the longest and most successful relationship of his life," Lampley said. "This is an incredibly romantic picture, referencing the naturalism of his relationship at this time."
Picasso and Roque were married for 20 years until his death at 91 in 1973. She was the subject of hundreds of portraits.
Also on offer are works featuring Francoise Gilot, with whom Picasso had two children, Claude and Paloma, and his mistress Dora Maar and Walter who is captured in "Le Repos," a 1932 work estimated to fetch $5 million to $7 million.
"Picasso is best known as an abstracting artist who violently disfigures the female form. So this work's celebration of his lover is somewhat unique in his body of work," Lampley explained. "For people who love Picasso, this work is a revelation."
Christie's has high hopes for the works. In the past 15 years pieces featuring Walter or Dora Maar achieved some of the highest prices for any art at auction at the time.
"The female subjects have appreciated markedly over the past decade," Langley said, adding "There has been a growing appreciation of the later and more figurative works from the latter half of his career."
Also, she noted, more attention is being paid to the biographical, or personal, aspects of the artist's life. This interest has led to a greater understanding of the influence of these in his life, not just as models but as real influences.
"There has been a shift in the market, from the blue or rose or Cubist works being the most prized. Now there is a real passion for figurative, more biographically driven subjects." .
Both Walter and Roque committed suicide in the years after Picasso's death.