The Metropolitan Museum of Art is deaccessioning Pablo Picasso’s first Cubist sculpture, Tête de femme (Fernande), and consigning it for auction at Christie’s to shore up the museum's acquisition fund. The work, which is expected to bring around $30m, will be one of the highlights of the auction house’s marquee evening sale of 20th century art in New York City this May.
Originally donated to the Met over 25 years ago as part of the bequest of May Department Stores heiress and philanthropist Florene M. Schoenborn, who died in 1995, the bronze sculpture was cast from a model executed in clay in 1909 and represents a pivotal chapter in the development of Cubism. The deaccession comes at no great cost to the museum, which was recently given a second cast of the work by cosmetics billionaire Leonard A. Lauder.
“The Met annually deaccessions work, following comprehensive review with a focus on similar or duplicate works,” the Met's director Max Hollein said in a statement. “We are extraordinarily privileged to have had two casts of Picasso’s first Cubist sculpture—a masterpiece—thanks to the generosity of great patrons past and present. The funds from this sale will enable the museum to further prioritise acquisitions of major outstanding works of art.”
There are 20 known casts of the sculpture, the majority of which are held by public institutions. Christie's will exhibit the Schoenborn Tête in Hong Kong and London before bringing it back to New York ahead of the evening auction in May.
“Tête de femme (Fernande) is Cubism’s definitive early sculpture,” Max Carter, head of Christie’s Impressionist and modern art department, said in a statement. “Its revolutionary architectural faceting, which Picasso sliced and sharpened after modeling in clay, suggests Vesalius as much as it does Frank Gehry. To offer this extraordinarily rich, beautiful cast on behalf of The Metropolitan Museum of Art is the ultimate honor.”
While deaccessioning has proven a controversial practice in some instances, it is a standard procedure when museums identify obvious redundancies in their collections, with proceeds from any sold works typically earmarked for collection care and further acquisitions. On the auction houses' side, being able to market a major lot as coming directly from the collection of an important museum has obvious advantages when it comes to piquing potential bidders' interest.