An anonymous donor gave ‘Jeune fille endormie’ to the University of Sydney on the condition that it be sold to support science.
The portrait of the artist’s lover, Marie-Therese Walter, fetched £13.5m when it went under the hammer on Tuesday at Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art auction in London.
The 1935 work, “Jeune fille endormie”, was given to the University of Sydney last year by an anonymous US donor on the condition that it be sold to support scientific research at the university.
“When they gave us this remarkable work our donor said “this painting is going to change the lives of many people”,” said Michael Spence, the university’s vice-chancellor.
“They were right. We are grateful for their extraordinary generosity and delighted with the outcome of the auction,” he added.
The rarely-seen piece was estimated to raise between £9 million and £12 million but sold to an anonymous British buyer for £13,481,250.
Giovanna Bertazzoni, director of Impressionist and Modern Art at Christie’s, said it was “an absolute jewel of a painting by one of the great artistic geniuses of Western art”, adding that the work was “bursting with colour and luring the viewer into the intimate sanctity of Picasso’s love for Marie-Therese.”
“We are thrilled to have realised a strong price for Sydney University’s Picasso, especially knowing that the proceeds will benefit such a worthy cause,” Bertazzoni said.
Portraits of three different lovers of the 20th century artist went on sale at the auction. A depiction of Dora Maar, who displaced Walter to become Picasso’s lover and muse, sold for £18m. The 1939 work had not been seen in public since 1967.
The third portrait, “Buste de Françoise”, created in 1946, sold for £10.7m. Françoise Gilot was an artist and author who became Picasso’s lover in the 1940.
The Picasso portraits were among 92 lots, which sold for a total of £140 million. Other pieces on sale included work by French impressionist Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Paul Gauguin. Thirty-one of the works on auction sold for more than £1million.
• This article was amended on 22 June 2011. A sub-heading in the original named the painting as ‘Jean fille endormie’. This has been corrected.