Pablo Picasso: Les femmes d'Alger (Version ‘O’), 1955. Courtesy Christie's Images Ltd. 2015.

Overall sale estimate: $578 million to $733 million

 

Christie's launches the second week of big-ticket spring auctions with "Looking Forward to the Past," spanning the years 1902 to 2011. This auction follows a new format inaugurated by the house in 2014, bringing postwar and contemporary art together with the traditionally separate and increasingly sluggish sales of Impressionist and modern art. But really, this allows Christie's to pump over half a billion dollars of merchandise through their pipeline (in addition to their regular contemporary art evening auction slated for May 13), giving them a boost in terms of market share. Profit wise, who knows? Here are some of the lots expected to fetch the highest prices. (Spoiler alert: Don't expect to find any works by women).

 

Lot 8A

Pablo Picasso, Les femmes d'Alger (Version ‘O'), 1955, oil on canvas, 44 7/8 by 57 5/8 inches

Region of $140 million

Last sold at auction for $32 million in 1997, and included in dozens of Picasso museum exhibitions, this work is part of a series of 15 paintings based on Delacroix's 1843 painting of a harem, Les femmes d'alger. Picasso's ladies are bare breasted; Delacroix's are not.

 

Lot 29A

Alberto Giacometti, L'homme au doigt, 1947, bronze with patina and hand-painted by artist, height: 69 7/8 inches

Region of $130 million

This lean fellow is positioned to permanently scold: his exaggeratedly long extended arm terminates in a forceful pointed finger. Other versions of the cast, in an edition of six, reside at MoMA and the Tate. For a private collector with cash to burn, it will take some ingenuity to figure out how to place the work in a living room without being subjected to that accusing digit.

 

Lot 15A

Pablo Picasso, Buste de femme (Femme à la résille), 1938, oil on canvas, 25 5/8 by 21 1/4 inches

Region of $55 million

For those who can't afford the pricier Les Femmes d'Alger (Version ‘O'), here is a respectable smaller alternative. The portrait shows Picasso's paramour, the photographer Dora Maar, against a radiant red. The "femme" wears a comical hat and is depicted in profile but with both eyes facing the viewer, as if shown from the front.

 

Lot 22A

Jean Dubuffet, Paris Polka, 1961, oil on canvas, 74 3/4 by 86 1/2 inches

Region of $25 million

Compared with Picasso, this Dubuffet looks like a relative bargain. The dense canvas is a riot of colors and quivering lines, celebrating and mocking the city of lights. Flat like a map with inscriptions noting "Mafia" over here, or "The Disaster" over there, little cartoon figures clutching steering wheels amble down a street. The artist's deep interest in l'art brut is evident and makes this piece appear among the most aesthetically fresh in the sale.

 

Lot 5A

Peter Doig, Swamped, 1990, oil on canvas, 77 1/2 by 95 inches

Region of $20 million

Sold for $454,000 in 2002 at Sotheby's, at its current estimate this work is poised to outstrip inflation twenty fold. With returns like this, it's no wonder the art world has turned into a cauldron of greed. Picturing a lonely white canoe floating on a moonlit swamp, it's among a series of similarly themed paintings which have become status items amongst ultra-wealthy art buyers, who must relish the scale and virtuoso application of oil on canvas. But really, such clamoring for a work the artist created while still an art student?