Feb 06, 2015

    Heir to Picasso's works set to cash out big-time


    SINCE Marina Picasso was a child - living on the edge of poverty and lingering at the gates of a French villa with her father to plead for an allowance from her grandfather, Pablo Picasso - she has struggled with the burden of the artist's towering legacy.

    Picasso left no will when he died at 91, setting off a bitter struggle among his widow, children and grandchildren. Unexpectedly, Ms Picasso was named an heir and inherited a fifth of the estate, including the villa La Californie, as well as a vast trove of Picasso's art treasures. When she inherited these in her 20s, she turned the paintings to face the walls in resentment.

    Now 64, Ms Picasso acknowledges that she is expanding her rebellion by preparing to sell off many of his works of art to finance and broaden her philanthropy: aid for a pediatric hospital in Vietnam, and projects in France and Switzerland benefiting the elderly and troubled teenagers.

    Ms Picasso has been regularly selling her grandfather's works for years to support herself and her charities. Since the death of her long-time dealer Jan Krugier in 2008, she has tried various strategies in the market, auctioning two major paintings in 2013 and displaying a collection of nude drawings by her grandfather at Sotheby's in Paris last year.

    But her decision to sell them on her own suggests a more aggressive effort to purge herself of her legacy. While other Picasso heirs have occasionally sold works, Ms Picasso is the only one who seems to be "accelerating" the sale of art objects, said Enrique Mallen, an art history professor at Sam Houston State University in Texas, who created the Online Picasso Project to track the art.

    "It's better for me to sell my works and preserve the money to redistribute to humanitarian causes," Ms Picasso said, speaking publicly about her new strategy while inspecting a hospital site in Marseille, where she is financing a psychiatric unit for teenagers in crisis.

    Ms Picasso, who inherited about 300 paintings among 10,000 Picasso works of art, said she had not decided on the number to be sold and had no plans to put the villa on the market. But she knows which piece she will sell first: La Famille, a 1935 portrait of a family surrounded by an arid landscape.

    "It's symbolic because I was born in a great family, but it was a family that was not a family," she said. By the time of his death in 1973, Picasso had created some 50,000 works of art and left behind a tangled brood of four children and eight grandchildren, as well as wives and muses, who have had a long-running battle over his estate and legacy. She is the daughter of Picasso's son Paulo, and she has long kept her distance from the rest of the family.

    Her timing is good. Last year, the auction sales of Picassos were second only to those of Andy Warhol, at US$449 million (S$605 million) in a US$16.1 billion international market last year, according to Artnet, the New York-based art researcher.

    "The scale is enormous and it is obviously an important work," said James Roundell, a dealer with Simon Dickinson Fine Art in London, adding that it is worth "in the millions" of dollars.

    Ms Picasso has not publicly disclosed what she hopes to earn.