Picasso’s Determined Granddaughter has been writing a new inventory of her grandfather’s sculptures that could ignite prices and add tens of millions of dollars to the Picasso market

July 18, 2013, 6:51 p.m. ET

Picasso’s Determined Granddaughter Catalogs His Sculptures

Diana Widmaier-Picasso has been writing a new inventory of her grandfather’s sculptures that could ignite prices and add tens of millions of dollars to the Picasso market


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Diana in the sculpture garden of New York’s Museum of Modern Art with her grandfather’s ‘She-Goat’ earlier this month.

The heirs of Pablo Picasso keep a family office in an unassuming Parisian building near Place Vendôme, behind a tall wooden door wedged between a bistro and a travel agency. Inside, up a creaky gated elevator, the artist’s descendants gather in a row of book-lined rooms to take stock of their empire—including a trove of Picassos and several million dollars a year in related resale and licensing fees.Two blocks away, another member of the family—Diana Widmaier-Picasso, the artist’s granddaughter via his blonde mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter—is quietly building her own realm in a chic, white atelier formerly used by fashion designer Valentino Garavani. Ms. Widmaier-Picasso, 39 years old, said the art research she is doing there falls under the umbrella of the family firm, but in many ways it also stands apart.

‘Bust of a Woman,’ at Gagosian Gallery. Picasso’s sculptures generally aren’t as highly valued as his paintings.

For the past decade, Ms. Widmaier-Picasso has been researching a new catalogue raisonné, or scholarly inventory, of her grandfather’s sculptures, and she is hoping to publish its first volume in a couple of years to coincide with a major Picasso exhibit she is planning for Paris’s Grand Palais. Her research involves tracking down and listing the measurements and movements of every single sculpture the artist created in the course of his eight-decade career, more than 2,000 objects in all.

To do this, she has sifted through dusty invoices boxed up in secretive French foundries. She has crisscrossed southern France interviewing carpenters and potters who worked with Picasso more than a half-century ago. She coaxed her mother, Maya Widmaier-Picasso, to unpack her parents’ love letters so she could scour for clues.

An art historian and former auction-house specialist, Diana Widmaier-Picasso knows well the significance of what she is attempting in writing a catalogue raisonné. These exhaustive, multivolume reference works tend to serve as the last word on an artist’s creative output. Whatever gets included matters to posterity, and therefore the marketplace. Over the centuries, these documents have attained a near-sacred status in the trade, because art buyers usually feel safer spending thousands or millions on an artwork if they know exactly how many similar versions an artist may have produced—and how many of those may now be tucked away in museums and presumably out of reach.

‘Owl’ in painted metal sold for $2.6 million in 2006

Catalogue raisonnés log this kind of information, along with everything else scientifically knowable about the artworks created. Because these tomes are typically written and vetted by art scholars or family members in a position to vouch for the artist, catalogue raisonnés are also used to help confirm an artwork’s authenticity—or even to shore up collector confidence in an artist overall. “For the trade, it’s become a stamp of approval,” said Véronique Wiesinger, director of the Alberto and Annette Giacometti Foundation. (See article below.)

Dealers say the financial implications of Ms. Widmaier-Picasso’s findings could be huge because she is focusing on arguably the only undervalued segment of her grandfather’s oeuvre, his sculptures. Picasso, the Spanish co-founder of cubism and painter of “Guernica,” created roughly 50,000 works between 1881 and his death in 1973.

His most coveted paintings depict his mistresses, including “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust,” which sold for $106.5 million—the second-highest price ever paid for an artist at auction, after the $120 million paid for Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.” Picasso’s sculptures of jesters and roosters and sheet-metal portraits of pony-tailed girls aren’t as well known or highly valued, though. Picasso’s bronze record-holder is a 1941 bust of his mistress Dora Maar that sold at Sotheby’s BID +1.64% six years ago for $29.1 million. But of his top 100 auction prices, only three are for sculptures, according to Artnet, a firm that tracks auctions. (By contrast, one of Alberto Giacometti’s sculptures has topped $100 million.)

All that could change with the completion of Ms. Widmaier-Picasso’s catalogue raisonné, said Carmen Gimenez, a curator with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum who previously ran the Museo Picasso Málaga in Spain. Ms. Gimenez said dealers and auctioneers are already leveraging Ms. Widmaier-Picasso’s research into the artist’s 1950s sheet-metal sculptures to remind collectors how rare these pieces are compared with his paintings.

Prices for these sculptures have started ticking upward as a result, dealers say. Three months ago, New York collector Donald Bryant paid Sotheby’s $13.6 million for Picasso’s 1954 painted-metal sculpture portrait of “Sylvette,” a piece Ms. Widmaier-Picasso has written about in essays as well as in her catalogue raisonné. Six years earlier, auction houses couldn’t get a third as much for any “Sylvette.”

‘Crane,’ in painted bronze, sold at Sotheby’s for $19.1 million in 2008

Ms. Gimenez thinks prices for the rest of Picasso’s sculptures could ignite in similar fashion, once collectors realize his sculptures are just as historically significant as his canvases—a shift in perception that could ultimately add tens of millions to Picasso’s market overall. “Picasso is the greatest sculptor of the 20th century,” Ms. Gimenez said. “He practically reinvented modern sculpture. But as soon as you begin working with his sculptures, you realize you need to learn more.”

Curators and dealers alike have long groused that records on the actual numbers and whereabouts of Picasso’s sculptures are outdated and often incomplete. His own dealers and foundries never kept good records on the numbers of bronzes they cast from his plaster molds, because the art-world custom before World War II was simply to fill orders as they came in from collectors.

After the war, artists like Giacometti decided to exert more control by agreeing to a set number of bronzes to be cast in each edition ahead of time. Picasso, a self-taught sculptor, shifted to that practice eventually, but he rarely dated or numbered his later sculptures with the precision he applied to his paintings. He also held on to a big chunk of his sculptures, which meant they weren’t as widely seen or recognized during his lifetime.

At least half a dozen catalogue raisonnés now chronicle Picasso’s artistic output in various media—notably, a 33-volume set on his paintings and drawings by Christian Zervos, which is being reprinted now by Cahiers d’Art at $15,000 a set. But the only catalogue raisonné devoted to Picasso’s sculptures was written in 1971 and updated in 1983 and 2000 by Werner Spies, the former director of Paris’s Centre Pompidou, and none of these versions lists a key part needed to confirm authenticity—the works’ provenance, or full list of prior owners from the time the works left the studio to now. Ms. Widmaier-Picasso said her version will include such provenances; Mr. Spies called her characterization of his work “humiliating,” adding: “Everyone agrees I did pioneering work.”

© 2013 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Picasso’s ‘Head of a Woman (Dora Maar),’ sold for $29 million in 2007.

The artist’s family remains a major owner of Picasso’s sculptures, so it stands to benefit if Ms. Widmaier-Picasso’s research shores up lingering questions about his output in this segment. The fact that she can comb through her mother’s holdings and archives and those of some of her relatives irks some professional scholars who would “kill for” similar access, said Elizabeth Cowling, a professor emeritus at the University of Edinburgh known for researching Picasso. As a result, Ms. Cowling said some “jealous researchers are prone to not take Diana’s research as seriously.”

But Ms. Cowling praised Ms. Widmaier-Picasso’s best-known exhibit—a 2011 Gagosian Gallery show about her grandparents, which was co-curated by Picasso’s biographer, John Richardson. “The gallery never would have gotten half those pieces in that fabulous show without her help,” she added. Mr. Richardson said that Diana originally presented the exhibit idea to the gallery, but he said, “It wasn’t Diana who did the lending—it was Maya, and I’ve known her since 1956.”

Even so, the Picasso family is known for being discreet and doesn’t fling open its doors to anyone—even Ms. Widmaier-Picasso. To access records in the artist’s archives in Paris’s Picasso Museum, Ms. Widmaier-Picasso’s team said they must routinely elicit and submit written permission like any other art scholar. Ms. Widmaier-Picasso isn’t allowed to sift through files on short notice; the founding donors to the museum, including her mother, can do so. Some of her research also bogged down after the museum and its archives shut down for a major building expansion several years ago; the museum is set to reopen in December.

Claudia Andrieu, the in-house lawyer for the Picasso Administration, the family firm, said Ms. Widmaier-Picasso may face an uphill battle to convince her family that her research is comprehensive enough to pass legal muster so she can publish it as planned. Ms. Andrieu said the final word must come from Ms. Widmaier-Picasso’s uncle, Claude Ruiz-Picasso, the estate’s administrator. Her findings are notable, Ms. Andrieu said, but some of the heirs are worried they could be sued if they vouch for her research and later find mistakes or forgeries published within it. “Legally speaking, ‘catalogue raisonné’ has a certain meaning,” Ms. Andrieu said, adding that the family “shall be very cautious and not take chances with it.”

Ms. Widmaier-Picasso says she knows the rules and intends to comply, and her mother, Maya Widmaier-Picasso, is sanguine about her daughter’s odds—saying, “Diana is very curious and passionate, just like my father. She is the perfect person for this task.”

Diana Widmaier-Picasso is already an art-world fixture in her own right, known for her quiet French lilt, angular face and penchant for cocktail dresses and 4-inch stilettos. Her apartment in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood brims with her collection of antiquities, midcentury design and art by friends like Cindy Sherman. A decade ago, when MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach first spotted her in the lobby of a Moscow hotel, he turned to a friend and said, “That woman looks just like Picasso and his paintings in a beautiful way,” he said. “Genetically, she’s a fusion.” He later befriended her and asked her to join his museum board.

Françoise Gilot, one of Picasso’s longtime lovers, also sees a family resemblance, saying that Ms. Widmaier-Picasso takes after her grandmother’s looks. But she credits Pablo Picasso for Ms. Widmaier-Picasso’s interest in art. “Diana looks like Picasso from the inside,” Ms. Gilot said.

One of Ms. Widmaier-Picasso’s brothers, Olivier Widmaier Picasso, said his sister isn’t spoiling for any fight, but she is determined to see the project through. The trouble, he said, really boils down to a family dynamic that has always been confusingly “formal,” complicated by the fact that its patriarch had four children by three different mothers who continually jockeyed for his attention but saw little of him in his final years.

The next generation—including Olivier and his sister—never even met the artist, so most of them are just trying to figure out what it means to be a Picasso. The catalogue raisonné is his sister’s way in. “In this family, you cannot escape Picasso,” he said. “You have to find a way to live with him.”


When Picasso died on April 8, 1973, at the age of 91, Diana Widmaier-Picasso wasn’t yet born and her immediate family in Marseilles found out by watching television. At the time, the Picasso family was in a fractured state of détente after an earlier falling-out between the artist and his three children out of wedlock—Maya, Claude and Paloma—who had sued him so he would legally claim them as heirs instead of anything less.

The children won their suit, but the artist, who never made out a will, was miffed by the legal ordeal. Maya Widmaier-Picasso, the oldest daughter and the only one who could speak to her father in his native Catalan, told her older children in the years after the lawsuit that their grandfather was a well-respected artist who needed to be left alone to work. In fact, she was nervous to show up at his studio in Mougins with her children in tow for fear they might all be turned away. Picasso’s second wife, Jacqueline Roque, later told a close friend, Pepita Dupont, that Ms. Widmaier-Picasso was utterly mistaken, but it was too late.

Diana Widmaier-Picasso’s earliest memories involve tagging along with her mother to meetings with lawyers and auctioneers, a small army assigned to inventory the vast contents of her grandfather’s billion-dollar estate, which included two châteaus and two villas brimming with at least 1,800 paintings, 7,000 drawings, 1,200 sculptures and nearly 30,000 ceramics, prints and lithographs. In the decade after Picasso died, an inventory was taken of it all—and a third of the art was eventually given to the French government as estate taxes and used to form the collection of the National Picasso Museum in Paris.

While waiting in hallways or around conference tables, Ms. Widmaier-Picasso said she would draw portraits of the lawyers and dealers around her, and her mother would entertain her with stories of the brief happy years when her parents lived together in Paris and later in Cannes. Ms. Widmaier-Picasso said her two older brothers, Richard and Olivier, wanted nothing to do with the family myth growing up, but she was insatiable. “At first it was so overwhelming, they rejected it,” she said of her siblings, “whereas I embraced it, maybe because my grandfather had died, things felt more clear to me.”

As she grew up, she began eliciting stories from her mother’s art-dealer friends as well, men such as Heinz Berggruen and Thomas Ammann who had handled Picasso’s work for years and knew him well. She told them her favorite artists were Old Masters—painters such as Michelangelo, Pontormo, Giotto and Velásquez—and she took lessons in fresco painting to prove it. Her mother saw her daughter embracing a life in art and didn’t mind one bit. “My daughter used to spend hours making copies after Old Masters. She loved them.”

In 1985, the National Picasso Museum opened in Paris and Ms. Widmaier-Picasso’s shipping-magnate father, Pierre, moved the family to the capital in part so they could experience more culture. Ms. Widmaier-Picasso took up the cello and spent her summers interning for an auctioneer in Paris’s storied boutique auction house, Hôtel Drouot.

In 1989, a French court handed her uncle, Claude Ruiz-Picasso, a furniture and textiles designer and photographer, the legal right to administer the Picasso estate. A few years later he set up the office on Rue Volney where it remains today. Dealers and curators say the business he set up filters out fake Picassos efficiently, and he wins goodwill points for sifting through up to 700 authentication requests a year without charging a fee to do so.

Back then, Ms. Widmaier-Picasso paid little heed to these affairs, but by the time she headed to college, she was determined to build a career for herself as an auction expert specializing in Old Master drawings, her first love. She got master’s degrees in art history and law in France and then spent a couple of years at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art researching French Old Masters for curators. In 1999, she joined Sotheby’s London. For her, the thrill of the hunt came in making discoveries, no matter how minute. But over time she realized that museums, not auction houses, claimed the bulk of Old Master finds. By 2002, she was considering her options in Paris when she overheard her mother complaining about “the terrible problem of the Vollard casts.”

In the 1930s, Picasso’s dealer Ambroise Vollard began a regular program of casting some of the artist’s bronzes by sending out orders to several foundries spread across France. Each shop had its own secret recipe for getting its metal alloys to flow and harden as needed, so few let outsiders in for a closer peek. Vollard was content to order up Picasso sculptures on demand, and Vollard rarely numbered or tracked the output. Even then, his move would be considered “naughty,” Ms. Widmaier-Picasso said, but it is a sign of how undervalued the artist’s sculptures were compared with his paintings, which elicited copious bills of sales from the dealer.

Seventy years on, Vollard’s lapse meant that the artist’s children, particularly Claude and Maya who were both authenticating works at the time, had to do all sorts of sleuthing to try to determine which bronzes from the Vollard period were genuine. So one afternoon, Ms. Widmaier-Picasso walked down the block from her mother’s house to the Musée D’Orsay and looked up the Vollard archives bequeathed to the museum. She didn’t find much, but she found enough to stoke her curiosity. Walking back, she realized she’d hit on an area of Picasso’s oeuvre that wasn’t already crawling with graduate students and that no one in the family appeared to want to explore in greater depth. “The market needed answers,” she said.

By summer’s end, she had resolved to tackle a career in Picasso, specifically sculpture. Her mother gave her blessing. To christen her decision, she legally changed her name to add Picasso, a decision that some in the French art world still snicker about. But she said the practice is common enough in England and routine in Spain, and she thought it might help her unlock a few doors as a Picasso researcher.

She was right. Within a year, she had sweet talked her way into all those tight-lipped foundries that had turned away so many other Picasso dealers seeking answers to the Vollard casting chaos. She started her database with what records she found. She also took more than a dozen trips to the South of France in the first few years of her research, because she kept getting tipped off to older craftsmen there who had befriended her grandfather in the 1950s. Most of them hadn’t spoken of Picasso in decades, she said, “but they talked to me about the shock wave he caused” when he started making art nearby, she said. They shared his belief that “inspiration came from the labor, from their know-how.”

Tracing every move in a career as prolific as Picasso’s can be tedious. Picasso’s “Standing Woman” illustrates the rabbit-hole scope of the provenance job: In 1945, Picasso created a set of 24 sculptures of standing women. He had this 24-piece set cast 11 different times. Olivia Speer, an art historian researcher who works for Ms. Widmaier-Picasso, said she and her colleague Judith Ferlicchi were able to locate archival records that named the original owner of one of these sets. This single clue helped them eventually track down the set’s women to 24 different owners today. Only now, they’ve still got to find owners for the remaining 240 pieces in the edition overall. “It’s like trying to put together a huge puzzle,” Ms. Speer said.


On the night of Feb. 26, 2007, Ms. Widmaier-Picasso was sleeping in her Rue de Grenelle home when she and her boyfriend at the time heard an unsettling noise. She asked her boyfriend to go downstairs and take a look but he saw nothing amiss, and they went back to bed, she said. The next morning, they realized she had been burglarized. Thieves, who had apparently hidden in the dark library during his scouring, had stolen at least $66 million worth of Picassos—including a colorful portrait of her mother as a toddler, “Maya With Doll.” Six months later, authorities arrested three people as they were trying to sell the paintings, one of which had been removed from its frame and rolled up. The trio was convicted and sentenced, but Ms. Widmaier-Picasso felt traumatized by the invasion—enough to pull up stakes and move to New York.

The move meant setting up two offices, but it also gave her more chances to spend time with American collectors of Picasso. Here, even more so than in Paris, her lineage helped to gain entry. “People would say, ‘Let me show you my Picasso,’ and then I got to see everything else in their collections,” she said. “But some of them are totally obsessed, they only have Picasso.”

Over the past few years, the value of Picasso sculptures has started inching upward. In May 2008, the peak of the last market cycle, Sotheby’s sold the artist’s 1951-54 “Crane” bronze for $19.1 million, over its $15 million high estimate.

Lately, she has been trying to enlist her mother’s financial backing to hire an art-conservation scientist from the Art Institute of Chicago, Francesca Casadio, to use a laserlike tool called a spectrometer to map the metal alloy quantities in the family’s 45 Vollard bronzes. The idea is to see if they contain enough of the same elements to confirm they, indeed, were made from the same metallurgical recipe and therefore cast by the same foundry at around the same time—and not years later.

No one in the field has come this close to carbon-dating sculpture, Ms. Casadio said. She told the two Picassos that she thought there was a good chance her spectrometer would be able to sift legitimate sculptures from fakes but she couldn’t guarantee it. She is still waiting for a final ruling on whether Maya Widmaier-Picasso will fund her research. The elder Picasso is still considering but called it a “very promising project.”

Since so much about Diana Widmaier-Picasso’s research requires waiting for the necessary cooperation of others—from her family to archivists in far-flung collections—she has lately taken on a greater role as a curator. She and Pompidou chief curator Didier Ottinger are planning a huge survey of Picasso’s influence on contemporary artists to run in the Grand Palais in 2015.

Sandy Rower, Alexander Calder’s grandson—who said he first befriended Diana Widmaier-Picasso years ago because they share the “common evils of being grandchildren of famous artists”—said he’s grown to envy the niche she’s carved out for herself in the Picasso firmament. While he, like her uncle, has to sift through the legal aspects of running an artist’s estate, he thinks she is freer to pursue projects that hinge on her ideas and research findings. Last November, she sat next to him at a Christie’s sale where a 2-foot tall Picasso “Rooster” came up for bid, and she spent several minutes beforehand telling him everything she knew about its back story: “She knew it encyclopedically,” Mr. Rower said. (The bird, which was priced to sell for at least $10 million, didn’t sell.)

For her part, one of Ms. Widmaier-Picasso’s favorite Picasso sculptures is a bronze shaped in the form of the artist’s left hand. The 1937 piece once belonged to her grandmother, who sold it in 1973. Ms. Widmaier-Picasso looked up the hand in her catalogue raisonné and found that it had changed owners once more before a dealer showed it to her last year. She bought it on the spot. “I got so excited when I saw it,” she said. “Something about it felt extremely symbolic. My grandmother sold it, but I got it back.”

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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