Picabia painting goes up for auction for the first time in 50 years

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'La Corrida' by Francis Picabia is estimated to fetch €1.7 million to €2.3 million.

"La Corrida (Le Matador dans l'arène)" by Francis Picabia is set to go under the hammer this month, making its first appearance on the market in half a century. In fact, the artwork could steal the show in the modern art section of the upcoming Art Impressionniste et Moderne Evening Sale at Sotheby's Paris.

"La Corrida" is one of the founding paintings of a new aesthetic developed by Picabia from the start of the Second World War. At the time, the French artist was settled in the Riviera village of Golfe-Juan, where he worked on realist figurative compositions inspired by images from the tabloid press. These paintings of photographs prefigure the whole wave of appropriation art that emerged in the second half of the 20th century with Pop Art.

"La Corrida" is one of the first works in this series, exhibited for the first time in 1941 at the Séguy gallery in Cannes. While the wartime works of Picabia enjoy critical and public acclaim today, this wasn't always the case. They were notably censured from the major retrospective of the French painter's work held at the Guggenheim Museum in New York in 1970. It wasn't until the 1980s that the works were reevaluated and appreciated for their just value.

"La Corrida" goes up for auction at Sotheby's March 25 as part of its Art Impressionniste et Moderne sale in Paris -- a symbolic sale, according to the auction house. Thomas Bompard, Senior International Specialist at Sotheby's France explains that the flagship lot at Sotheby's first Art Moderne sale in Paris in May 2007 was a Picabia work called 'Printemps' from the early 1940s. Since then, the expert continues, no other comparable painting by the artist has come to the Paris market, and only very few have elsewhere, whereas, since then, collectors' love of his spectacular, falsely realistic paintings has continued to grow.

"La Corrida" is estimated to fetch between €1.7 million and €2.3 million (or approximately US$2-3 million). This estimate is far from Picabia's auction record, set in 2013 when "Volucelle II" sold for $8.8 million at Christie's New York. More recently, "Minos" fetched €3.95 million (almost $4.7 million) last October at Sotheby's New York.

This Picabia masterpiece will have some considerable competition when it goes under the hammer, March 25. A Vincent van Gogh painting titled "Scène de rue à Montmartre" is also returning to the market after spending a century in the same private collection. Sotheby's estimates that particular work to fetch €5 million to €8 million (approximately $6-9.6 million).

Caroline Drzewinski