Portrait of Maya by Picasso

Picasso’s joyful and tender portrait of his daughter Maya born in secrecy to his greatest love comes to auction with an estimate of $15-20 Million.

Formerly owned by Gianni Versace, the painting reemerges onto the market for the first time in almost a quarter of a century. 

Painted on 4 February 1938, when Maya was two-and-a-half years old – shortly after Picasso had completed the monumental and harrowing Guernica – the portrait is filled with exuberant color and energy. Picasso depicts Maya at eye level, and captures her fidgety nature through implied movement, while her face is depicted with the cubistic distortion that was common in Picasso’s pictures from this era. An important feature of Picasso’s series of portraits of Maya is the striking resemblance that Maya’s features carry to those of her mother, Marie-Thérèse. 

It was no secret that Picasso revered childhood, and in his art attempted to capture the spirit and freedom that often eludes adult creativity. Playing with his children presented him with an opportunity to reclaim his lost youth, and his portraits of them were extensions of that cherished playtime. He would sing songs to his daughter, dance with her, make paintings for doll’s houses from matchboxes, puppet theatres using paper, and small fabric figures with heads made of chickpeas. 

Maya was Picasso’s eldest daughter and second child, following the birth of Paulo in 1921 (born to Olga Khokhlova), and preceding Claude in 1947 and Paloma in 1949 (born to Françoise Gilot) – all of whom were represented by Picasso in his art. 

The women in Picasso’s life have always been at the heart of the artist’s oeuvre. On September 5, 1935, a new muse arrived in the form of his daughter Maya, named María de la Conceptión after Picasso’s beloved late sister, and born in secrecy while Picasso was still married to his first wife, the former ballerina Olga Khokhlova. The daughter of his greatest love Marie-Thérèse Walter, Maya was to prove an immense source of happiness for Picasso. Her timely birth coincided with a personal crisis, which Picasso later referred to as “the worst period of his life”. A lengthy divorce battle with Olga and the associated loss of his beloved property, Château de Boisgeloup, in combination with the increasingly worsening political situation in Europe and a deepening sense of the inevitability of war, conspired to overwhelm the artist, who was experiencing a nearly year-long abstinence from painting. 

Between January 1938 and November 1939 Picasso painted fourteen portraits of Maya – the most important series Picasso devoted to one of his children, in which his joy as a father finds poignant expression in his joy as an artist. One of the artist’s most playful and bold depictions of his daughter will now appear at auction for the first time in more than 20 years. Estimated at $15-20 million (in the region of £12-18 million), Fillette au bateau (Maya) will be offered in Sotheby’s Modern & Contemporary Evening Auction in London on 1 March 2023. Kept by Picasso until his death in 1973, the painting was subsequently owned by Gianni Versace, before being sold by Sotheby’s in London in 1999 as part of the late fashion designer’s collection of 25 works by the artist. Its reappearance on the market coincides with the passing of Maya Ruiz-Picasso on December 20, 2022, at 87 years of age. The work will go on view at Sotheby’s Hong Kong (5-7 February), New York (11-15 February) and London (22 February-1 March).