En garde! Rival houses offer Picasso musketeers

Thu Jun 18, 2009 10:44am EDT
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - En garde!

Rival auction houses Christie's and Sotheby's are offering 1969 Picasso musketeer paintings at their London sales next week in a head-to-head clash.

Christie's "Homme a l'epee" is expected to fetch 5-7 million pounds ($8.2-11.4 million) at an impressionist and modern art sale on June 23, a sum experts say reflects strong interest in the artist's later works as well as a tidy profit for its owners -- it made 2.7 million pounds in 2005.

A few hundred yards down the road Sotheby's has its own "Homme a l'epee," expected to fetch 6-8 million pounds when it goes under the hammer the following day.

The painting, darker in tone than the Christie's version, was selected for the poster advertising the 1970 Picasso exhibition at the Palais des Papes in Avignon, France, at which both works appeared.

The vibrant paintings were executed when Picasso was in his late 80s and not long before he died in 1973. Their appearance in the forthcoming sales is not as much of a coincidence as it may seem, auction officials said.

Interest in Picasso has been driven partly by major exhibitions on the Spanish master, including "Picasso: Challenging the Past" at London's National Gallery and "Pablo Picasso: Mosqueteros" at the Gagosian in New York.

Both have just finished and the latter concentrated on the painter's later works, which are widely considered to be inferior to his earlier output.   Continued...

<p>Homme A L'Epee by Pablo Picasso is seen at Christie's auctioneers in London June 18, 2009. The work, which carries an estimate of between &pound;5-7 million pounds ($8.1 million - $11.4 million) is part of an Impressionist and Modern Art Sale that will take place at Christie's later this month. REUTERS/Kieran Doherty</p>