You could own a memento of one of art history’s most dramatic love affairs, between Pablo Picasso and Dora Maar, as Sotheby’s London auctions a ring the artist gave his muse as an apology following a lovers’ spat.
Designed by Picasso, the ring features a portrait of Maar done in ink and colored pencil on paper, set in a tiny metal frame decorated with enamel flowers. The evocative piece, charged with emotion, remained in Maar’s personal collection until the day she died in 1997. It is expected to fetch £300,000–500,000 ($380,000–633,000).
The story, as recounted in art historian James Lord’s 1993 tome Picasso and Dora, goes that the couple had an argument one night because he was unhappy with her for convincing him to trade an artwork for a ruby ring. Incensed, Maar ripped the jewel from Picasso’s finger and dropped it into the River Seine as they walked along its banks.
Both parties regretted the quarrel after, Maar repeatedly—and fruitlessly—checking to see if it had been recovered as the riverbed was dredged. For his part, Picasso crafted this thoughtful ring, titled Bague de forme ovale. Portrait de Dora Maar.
The ring is expected to be among the highlights at Sotheby’s new “Actual Size” auction. Eschewing monumental masterpieces in favor of more modestly sized work, everything in the auction catalogue is so small that it is printed at it actual size. Eight of the sale’s 35 lots are by Picasso, with pieces by a wide range of artists including Vincent van Gogh and Raymond Pettibon.
“Sometimes the smallest of things can contain a universe of thought and emotion,” said London Impressionist & Modern art evening sales head Thomas Bompard, who is curating the “Actual Size” auction, in a statement. “So it is with this ring—an intimate piece that allows us a captivating glimpse into secrets that might otherwise not be shared.”
A ring is actually a fitting symbol of Picasso and Maar’s relationship. A painter, poet, and photographer herself, Maar is said to have caught Picasso’s eye at a cafe one night back in 1936 as she sat playing the knife game, attempting to strike the table between her spread fingers, sometimes missing and cutting herself.
From that violent beginning grew a passionate, tumultuous affair. Picasso reportedly made Maar and his previous partner, Marie-Thérèse Walter, literally wrestle for his affections. The artist finally left Maar in 1943, having met Françoise Gilot, 40 years his junior.
The ring was made during the height of Picasso’s artistic prowess, when he was at work at this iconic Guernica canvas, depicting the horrors of the Spanish Civil War.