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All’s fair in love and war

Pablo Picasso’s Femme au béret gets the auction season underway at Sotheby's, says Chris Carter. But what's more interesting than its sale price is what it says about its painter.

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Femme au bret is expected to fetch $50m

Pablo Picasso's Femme au bret et la robe quadrille (Marie-Thrse Walter) gets the auction year under way at Sotheby's next month. It's the star lot in the Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale on 28 February, and it's expected to fetch around $50m, says the Financial Times. That may be conservative given that Buste de femme (Femme la rsille), a comparable Picasso portrait from 1938, made $67.4m at Christie's in 2015. Throw in the growing appetite for modern art in Asia, and Femme au bret might surprise, not least because this is the first time it has made its way onto the market.

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The piece was painted at the end of 1937, the same year that Picasso finished his Spanish Civil War masterpiece, Guernica. Femme au bret remained in the artist's own collection until his death in 1973. It then vanished into private hands, emerging briefly for exhibitions in Basel in 1986 and Mlaga in 2013.

The "femme" of the title is considered to be Marie-Thrse Walter hence the painting's full name. Walter was Picasso's young lover, with whom he had a daughter, as well as his model. But look carefully and you will see an ominous shadow outlining the face. That is thought to represent the transferring of Picasso's affections to Dora Maar, a communist activist he had first spied at Les Deux Magots, a caf in Paris, the previous year (where Maar had been sitting stabbing with a knife at the space between her fingers, occasionally drawing blood). It is Maar who is credited with turning Picasso's thoughts to the war in Spain. "It must be painful for a girl to see in a painting that she is on the way out," the artist is supposed to have said.

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For an indication of how quickly things had changed in the Picasso household (he was all the while still legally married to his first wife, Olga), you need only make a five-minute walk from Sotheby's to Phillips. There, Picasso's La Dormeuse, painted five years earlier in 1932, is up for sale as part of the 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 8 March. And who is the restful sleeper in the painting? Marie-Thrse Walter. "The day I met Marie-Thrse I realised that I had before me what I had always been dreaming about," said Picasso. La Dormeuse was left to his second wife, Jacqueline Rocque, from whom it then passed to their daughter, Catherine Hutin-Blay, notes The Daily Telegraph. The portrait is valued at between £12m and £16m.

A night at the virtual museum

It used to be that people visited museums to encounter real art, says Anne Quito on Quartz. But this is no longer always the case. Last October visitors arrived at Sotheby's in New York for the grand opening of the Kremer Collection around 70 artworks from the Dutch Golden Age, including those by Frans Hals and Rembrandt, rendered digitally through the medium of virtual reality (VR). Using a technique known as "photogrammetry", 2,500 to 3,500 photos were taken of each painting to build one ultra-high-resolution visual model. A virtual museum was designed by architect Johan van Lierop to "house" the works.

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"My wife Ilone and I believe we can make a greater contribution to the art world by investing in technology rather than bricks and mortar," said the collection's Dutch founder, George Kremer.A smartphone app using Google's Daydream VR technology, which allows users to pay a fee to access the collection, is slated for release in early 2018.

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Now it's the turn of London's Tate Modern. As part of its Modigliani exhibition, which runs until 2 April, visitors put on a VR headset and go back in time to the artist's workshop in Paris's Montparnasse neighbourhood in 1919. The goal is to put the work into context by reminding viewers that, despite the vast prices Modigliani now sells for (in November 2015, the artist's Nu Couch sold for $170.4m), the artist who died aged 35 worked and died in poverty.

"People haven't really had the opportunity to know what his personal circumstances looked like," assistant curator Emma Lewis tells Christie's magazine. "So we decided to use VR to recreate his personal environment [it] helps us better understand Modigliani as a man and as an artist."

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Auctions

Going...

An intact leg bone from a dodo (pictured above), the extinct flightless bird that once lived on the island of Mauritius, is to go under the hammer as part of Sworders' inaugural Out of the Ordinary online sale on 13 February. The bone has been valued at between £2,000 and £3,000 although a fragment of dodo leg bone fetched £8,125 at Christie's in London in 2013, implying it may fetcha higher price. Other lots at the auction include Marilyn Monroe's first magazine feature cover; a full-size replica of a Dalek from Dr Who; and a Victorian freak-show Feejee Mermaid (a stuffed monkey attached to a fish tail). "The unusual is definitely increasing in value," specialist Mark Wilkinson tells The Daily Telegraph.

Gone...

Moroccan authorities are looking into whether a 13-foot dinosaur tail auctioned off in Mexico last week had been exported illegally. The fossilised bones of a sauropod of the Atlasaurus imelakei species, which roamed the Atlas Mountains during the Jurassic period around 165 million years ago, had a reserve price of 1.8m pesos (£69,300) with anything raised over that going to help pay for reconstruction work following the earthquakes in Mexico last September.

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