Three recent record-setting items sold at auction this month

These three lots raked in US$225 million once the hammer fell

The auction block saw some monumental action this week as three bids set new records for their respective lots. Two paintings, Pablo Picasso’s ode to his muse and mistress Femme a la Montre and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s devastating commentary on fame, Self-Portrait as a Heel (Part Two) as well as a gem, the flawless Bleu Royal diamond have each made history for their bar-raising bid price.

Read more about the particulars of each sale below.

Pablo Picasso’s Femme a la Montre

The oil-on-canvas work is an ode to Picasso’s muse, Marie-Thérèse Walter. Photo by Sotheby’s

Behold the second-most expensive Picasso ever sold. Completed in 1932, Femme a la Montre (Italian for ‘Woman with a Watch) is an ode to the artist’s mistress and muse Marie-Thérèse Walter. The auction closed on 9 November through Sotheby’s in New York when the winning bid, US$139,363,500, was announced.

The 130cm by 97cm oil-on-canvas lot is a testament to the artistic impulse behind the Surrealist notion of amour fou or obsessional desire. Besides being an unabashed monument to his mistress at a time when he was already married, the canvas is notable for its emergence when Picasso’s artistic relevance was questioned as emerging talents such as Henri Matisse became the toast of the town.

The Bleu Royal

Before its sale, this flawless gem belonged to a private collector for 50 years. Photo by Christie’s

Seven minutes. That was all it took for the Bleu Royal to sell for the remarkable price of US$43.8 million, cementing it as 2023’s priciest jewel to be sold at auction. The seven-minute bidding period ended swiftly in Geneva, on 7 November, by a private collector whose winning bid is indicative of the jewel’s essence as the largest internally flawless fancy vivid blue diamond in existence. Set in a ring, the 17.6-carat stone is amongst the rarest to ever be unearthed. According to Max Fawcett, head of Christie’s jewellery department in Geneva, the stone owes its premium value to its deep rich blue colour and unmodified pear brilliant shape.

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Self-Portrait as a Heel (Part Two)

This dramatised self-portrait is also a commentary on the disconcerting effects of fame. Photo by Sotheby’s

It is no accident that one of the most valuable self-portraits to ever hit auction is by the inimitable Jean-Michel Basquiat.

At Sotheby’s stacked Contemporary Evening Auction, which honours pioneering works from the 20th Century, the 2.5-metre-tall acrylic-and-oilstick-on-canvas painting, fetched US$42 million, once bidding closed on 16 November. Completed in Los Angeles in 1982, the towering opus is believed by Basquiat scholars to be reflective of the artist’s perception of his nascent fame. The jarring effect of the harsh presentation of the black, green, beige, blue, white and red colours inheres to Basquiat’s commentary of his public perception as a ‘heel’ in the 1980s West Coast art world.

Before its sale, the work resided in the private collection of Belgian gallerist and collector Stéphane Janssen, an early champion of Basquiat’s who received the painting in 1985. It was last seen in New York in 1999, when it was sold through Christie’s for US$772, 500.