This year’s 50th Annual Art Auction at the Yellowstone Art Museum will feature selections by 131 artists from across the country, including 100 artists from Montana.
But the work likely to draw the most attention will be a rare print created half a century ago by an artist from Spain. The piece, titled “Portrait d’Homme á la Fraise, Variation d’aprés El Greco,” was produced in 1962 by Pablo Picasso.
“Obviously,” said Ryan Cremer, the YAM’s development director, “it’s a bit outside the scope of what we normally sell here.”
The print, which measures 20.75 by 15.75 inches, is notable not only because it was created by Picasso. Until now, it had never been framed before and had never been displayed in public.
“That’s what makes it unique,” Cremer said.
The Picasso print is going to be part of this year’s auction because a member of the YAM board of directors happens to be friends with Michael Schwartz, the founder of Galerie Michael, an art gallery on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, Calif. Cremer said Galerie Michael, which specializes in paintings, drawings and prints from great masters of the 17th to the 20th centuries, is known around the world.
He said the YAM board member, who asked not to be identified, used Galerie Michael to help build his own art collection, and in the process became friends with Schwartz. Last year, Schwartz paid a visit to Montana, and he and the YAM board member toured the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman together.
The board member also brought Schwartz to Billings, where he was taken on a tour of the Yellowstone Art Museum by then-Director Robyn Peterson, who left last month for a new museum job in California.
Schwartz apparently liked what he saw at the YAM, because he later called his friend the board member and said he wanted to make a donation to the 50th annual auction. Better yet, it was a 100 percent donation, meaning all proceeds of the work’s sale will go to the museum.
The auction is by far the biggest fundraiser of the year for the museum, generally amounting to about a quarter of its annual budget. Cremer said proceeds from the auction go to support education and exhibitions.
The Picasso piece is a linocut, a printmaking technique that involves cutting a design in a piece of linoleum rather than a wooden block, rolling ink over the linoleum and impressing the design onto paper or fabric.
Adding to the rarity of the piece in question, it was not part of the numbered series of 50 prints eventually made from the engraving, but a “trial proof” made as Picasso was experimenting with colors and other aspects of the composition. One other trial proof of the print is known to exist, Cremer said, and there is reason to believe there may be a third.
The print is a portrait of and an homage to the Spanish artist known as El Greco, a painter born in Greece who did most of his work in Spain, and died there in 1614. A description of the print provided by the YAM said that Picasso was introduced to El Greco’s work on his first trip to Madrid in 1895, when Picasso was just 14.
The description said Picasso “was particularly fascinated by the dramatic compositions and the elongated, distorted figures in El Greco’s later religious paintings, which seemed expressionistic and rather modern for its time.”
Almost 70 years later, when Picasso created that portrait of El Greco, his fascination with those “elongated, distorted figures” was still quite evident.
Cremer said the portrait has been appraised at $89,000. There will be a reserve, or minimum, bid on it, but that number will be known only to the auctioneer and the museum’s two interim co-directors, senior curator Bob Durden and emeritus trustee Carol Green.
If the work does go for its appraised value or more, it will be a record for the auction. The record stands at $73,000, the winning bid at the 1996 auction for “Rosebud,” a bronze sculpture by Deborah Butterfield.
“This is just icing on the cake for the 50th,” Durden said. “I think the community is going to be excited.”
Works in the auction will be on exhibition from Jan. 25 until the auction on March 3. An opening reception is set for 5:30 on Jan. 25 and will include live music and hors d’oeuvres. Admission is free to YAM members.
The 50th annual auction will feature a live auction, a silent auction, a “quick draw,” cocktails from the High Horse Saloon & Eatery and gourmet heavy hors d’oeuvres from Thomas Nelson catering. The event will take place in the galleries of the YAM, 401 N. 27th St.
Advance tickets to the auction go on sale on Jan. 25 online and at the museum. General admission tickets are $95 each, or $105 at the door. Live auction bidding will start at 7 p.m. and end with a drawing for jewelry donated by Montague’s Jewelers. Details here.