A portrait Pablo Picasso made of his eldest daughter, Maya, in the late 1930s has sold for more than £18 million at auction.
The painting, Fillette au bateau, which translates to “girl on the boat,” was originally estimated to sell for between £12m to £18m, but was bought for almost £18.1m at Sotheby’s auction house in London on Wednesday.
Maya was born on 5 September 1935 in secrecy to Picasso’s mistress and greatest love Marie-Thérèse Walter, while the artist was still married to his first wife, former ballerina Olga Khokhlova, according to the auction house.
Her birth was a source of happiness for the artist, who was going through what he later called “the worst period of his life”, helping Picasso return to painting after an almost year-long hiatus.
Painted on 4 February 1938, the playful and bold portrait is one of 14 that Picasso made of Maya, his second child, between January 1938 and November 1939.
“In his portraits of Maya, Picasso reached for his most joyful, brightly coloured palette, and employed a combination of styles to elevate his daughter to the same level as his paintings of her mother, Marie-Thérèse – the artist’s greatest love, with whom we associate his most romantic pictures,” Samuel Valette, senior specialist at the Impressionist & Modern Art department at Sotheby’s London, said before the auction.
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Maya was two years old at the time the artwork was created. Her father depicted her fidgety nature and, as was common in his work at the time, recreated her face with cubic distortions.
Picasso often expressed the freedom and spirit of childhood in his paintings. As a young girl, Maya spent a lot of time in her father’s art studio, the auction house said.
It added that the renowned Spanish artist would sing songs to his daughter, dance with her, use matchboxes to make paintings for doll’s houses, use paper to make puppet theatres, and create small fabric figures with heads made of chickpeas.
After Picasso’s death in 1973, the portrait of his daughter was owned by Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace, and was later sold by Sotheby’s in 1999.
Almost a quarter of a century later, it has reappeared on the market following Maya’s death in December at the age of 87.