The most important works in the Landau collection at Sotheby’s


Sotheby’s in New York has just completed the auction of the year’s most expensive private collection, that of Emily Fisher Landau, from which more than 100 works of Modern and Contemporary art were offered on 8 and 9 November: the sale rises to the very satisfactory result of $406.4 million, with 100% of the 31 lots sold.
With major paintings by Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol, Georgia O’Keeffe, Ed Ruscha, Jasper Johns, Cy Twombly and Robert Rauschenberg (among others), the sale contained ten works estimated at more than 10 million dollars each and, notably, a painting by Pablo PICASSO, Femme à la montre, estimated at around $120 million finally sold for $139.4 million. Artprice by Artmarket looks back at the five top-valued works in the sale.

Pablo Picasso: Femme à la montre
Estimated: $120 million
Sold: $139.4m
With several museums – including the Pompidou Center in Paris – celebrating the 50th anniversary of the death of Pablo Picasso, a work of major importance went to auction last night. Painted in 1932, a pivotal year in Picasso’s artistic career marked by frenetic production, the boldly dimensioned Femme à la montre (130 x 97 cm) was one of the many works that reflected the passion and presence of Marie-Thérèse in his life.
The paintings Picasso created that year are considered among the most important in his career. Before the sale of the Femme à la montre, five paintings by Picasso had already exceeded the 100 million dollars threshold at auction, including two dating from 1932:

Nude, Green Leaves and Bust (1932)
Oil on canvas, 162 x 130 cm
Price sold: $106,482,500
Christie’s, New York, 4 May 2010

Femme assise près d’une fenêtre (Marie-Thérèse) (1932)
Oil on canvas, 146 x 114 cm
Price sold: $103,410,000
Christie’s, New York, 13 May 2021



On the basis of his auction turnover total this year, as recorded by Artprice, Pablo Picasso is again the world’s top-selling artist in 2023. But  despite over 3,600 of his works being offered, this year will not be his best. Before the sale of Femme à la montre, his best result of the year came from another work dated 1932, Still life at the window (1932), which fetched $41.8 million last May at Christie’s in New York.


Jasper Johns: Flags (1986)
Estimated: $35 – 45 million
Sold: $41m

Between 1954 and 2014, Jasper JOHNS painted 26 such works on canvas. This one from 1986 is among the most sought-after versions of the artist’s most famous motif, the American flag, with its iconic red, white and blue, and the fact that it is depicted twice, side by side on the same canvas, makes it particularly rare.


Ed Ruscha: Securing the Last Letter (Boss) (1964)
Estimated: $35 – 45 million
Sold: $39.4m

Fusing Pop Art and Conceptualism with elemental graphic force, Ruscha’s text-based paintings of the 1960s transformed ordinary language into striking visual statements that propelled the artist to the forefront of Contemporary American art. Announcing an important step in its aesthetic evolution, Securing the Last Letter (Boss) is one of 24 large-format paintings created by Ed RUSCHA during the pivotal period between 1960 and 1965.

Cy Twombly: Untitled (1968)
Estimated: $20 – 30 million
Sold: $26.7m

Executed in 1968, this work is said to be one of the best examples of Cy TWOMBLY‘s famous series of chaotic markings, where the artist expresses the boundary between control and anarchy, order and chaos, intention and accident. The painting also has remarkable provenance, having appeared in the collection of the artist Robert Rauschenberg who sold the work to Emily Fisher Landau in 1986. Untitled therefore testifies to Fisher Landau’s commitment to these two major artists, Cy Twombly and Robert Rauschenberg.


Mark Rothko: Untitled (1958)
Estimate: $30 – 40 million
Sold: $22.2m
Painted in 1958, this canvas was created in preparation for the infamous Seagram Murals. Partially titled “Seagram Mural Sketch”, Untitled is directly linked to the fourth part of the series of mural paintings held in the collection of the Tate in London. Of the thirty paintings in the complete Seagram series, only four are still in private hands, all the others being held in the permanent collections of the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., the Tate in London and the Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art in Sakura, Japan. The $22.2 million earned by this ROTHKO‘s work nevertheless remains far from the objective of $30 million set by the low estimate.


Emily Fisher Landau: collecting with the times
Undeniably one of the greatest collectors and patrons of the 20th century, Emily Fisher Landau launched in 1968 what would become one of the most important private collections of Modern and Contemporary art in America. It all started with a Calder mobile that she brought home on a bus in 1968. This first step would turn into a passionate commitment, leading her to travel around New York building her unique collection for more than 30 years.

She discovered Picasso, Dubuffet and Léger at the Pace gallery, but was also interested in the minimalism of Josef Albers and Mondrian and subsequently collected figurative pieces, gestural and conceptual works, abstractions and finally graffiti works. Sometimes she bought several pieces a day: fifteen small biomorphic abstractions by Thomas Nozkowski, then little known, or an entire exhibition of conceptual works by Rodney Graham and another by Glenn Ligon. Ultimately, she brought together some 1,200 works in her collection and frequently organized solo exhibitions (Donald Baechler, Neil Jenney, Kiki Smith) and thematic exhibitions in her Fisher Landau Art Center.

Emily Fisher Landau was a deeply committed collector who brought together the art she loved for herself, but also for posterity. Her acquisitions slowed down after 2000 with the speculative pressures of the art market, but she continued to maintain her Art Center and to work with the Whitney Museum to which she promised, in 2010, a donation of almost 400 works. She died in 2022 at the age of 102.