Normally our minds would be boggled at the thought of a mere rip costing millions of dollars, but when it's in a Pablo Picasso masterpiece, it starts to make sense. Femme Assise dans un Fauteuil (Woman Sitting in a Chair), a jaggedy portrait in the typical Picasso style, will hit the auction block tonight at Sotheby’s. And in the scrutiny of what's expected to be the second-most-expensive piece of art sold in the next two weeks (asking price: $20 to $30 million, in case you're in the market), we learn how much a two-inch tear in a Picasso can cost.
Here's the story: a lawsuit dug up on the painting reveals that in 2009, financer Teddy Forstmann's insurance company sued an art gallery housing the portrait for a rip below the figure's neck due to “careless, negligent, reckless, and otherwise improper handling of the work," according to Vanity Fair's Alexandra Peers. That supposedly reduced the value of the painting by $7.5 million, the amount the insurance company paid out to Forstmann, according to the claim. Sotheby’s only slyly mentioned the repair, without fully disclosing the damage: “There is a two-inch repair below the figure’s neck where the canvas has been stitched. ... Under UV light, one hairline retouching to address repair, otherwise fine.”
But don't fret, bidders. All indications we're seeing say that the physical (and thus financial) damage to the painting has been rectified. "There was a small tear that was repaired," the Picasso's restorer tells Bloomberg News. "The actual amount of paint loss on this picture was minimal." Phew! This episode of a Picasso gone awry will never compare to that of Steve Wynn's Le Rêve, which the poor-sighted casino mogul put an elbow through in front of a room full of dinner guests in 2006, to the tune of $40 million. Wynn eventually had to call off a $139 million deal to sell the painting because of the slip.
Femme, however, does trump Le Rêve in one way. The latter is a portrait of Marie-Thérèse Walter, a mistress of Picasso's that the artist left in the cold for Dora Maar, the subject of the Femme. Ah, the art world! Whether it's billionaires elbowing paintings that could feed small nations, or painters keeping multiple mistresses, it's always exciting.