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LONDON (Reuters) - A portrait by Pablo Picasso of his daughter Maya when she was two-and-a-half years old leads Sotheby's impressionist and modern art auction in New York next month and is expected to fetch $16-24 million.
Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti is also expected to be a highlight at the May 5 sale, the next big test for the art market which has seen values for top artists fall significantly during the credit crunch without collapsing.
On offer will be Giacometti's bronze "Le Chat" from 1951 which has not appeared at auction for 34 years.
Picasso's 1938 work "La fille de l'artiste a deux ans et demi avec un bateau" has never been auctioned before, and was in the artist's personal collection for 35 years until his death in 1973, suggesting it was among the Spanish master's favorites.
Emmanuel Di-Donna, Sotheby's vice chairman of impressionist and modern art, said Picasso painted the picture "only months after his harrowing Guernica," his portrayal of the 1937 bombing of a Spanish town during the civil war.
"This life-affirming portrait reflects the great joy that Maya brought into the artist's life, even on the eve of the Second World War."
Maya, daughter of Marie-Therese Walter, is depicted holding a toy boat, a favorite toy.
The work and other highlights from the New York sale are on display at Sotheby's London showroom until Saturday.
(Reporting by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Charles Dick)
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