There is an invisible, you might even say conceptual, addition to Pablo Picasso’s “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust.” An enormous price tag reading “$106.5 million” might as much be hanging on the wall beside it.
That figure will be present in the minds of those contemplating it at London’s Tate Modern, where the piece has gone on public display for the first time in decades.
For this is the work that fetched the highest sum ever bid at auction (on May 4 last year at Christie’s International, New York). Or, more simply, as I overheard a group of visitors telling each other, “this is the world’s most expensive painting!”
Of course, that is by no means the same thing as the world’s best. It is evidence that at least two people (the successful bidder, and the under-bidder), liked it a lot.
Previously, it was in the collection of Sidney and Frances Brody of Los Angeles, who bought it in 1951. It had been on public exhibition just once, in 1961. Now its new, anonymous owner has loaned it for about two years to Tate, starting from this week.
So how does “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust” hold up? Well, it is a fine Picasso. This is a grandly opulent picture, the product of the artist’s erotic obsession with his mistress Marie-Therese Walter. Her naked body reclines in front of her own sculpted bust, the fruit on a plate in front rhyming visually with her breasts.