The legacy of Pablo Picasso has an unyielding hold on our collective cultural consciousness; his artworks continue to inspire museum visitors, while the artist's personal life repeatedly emerges as popular culture lure, most recently with National Geographic's television biopic Genius starring Antonio Banderas as the influential painter. Picasso, as an icon, is as prevalent as ever, an astonishing fact when we acknowledge that achieved notoriety early and throughout his career and that it has been almost a half-century since his death. It is therefore no surprise that the artist's work continues to be extremely sought after on the art market.
As the most prolific artist of all time, Picasso produced approximately 13,000 paintings, in addition to over a hundred thousand prints, sculptures and illustrations (combined). Endlessly inspired by the many women in his life, the artist's stylistic phases and subject matter varied dramatically over the years. While many of Picasso's masterpieces belong to museum collections, notably The Old Guitarist at Art Institute of Chicago, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon at New York's Museum of Modern Art, and monumental Guernica of 1937 at Madrid's Museo Arte Reina Sofía, additional important works routinely make headlines with major prices achieved on the art market. Most recently, for example, we witnessed the artist's Rose Period Fillette à la Corbeille Fleurie achieve $115.1 million premium at Christie's 2018 Rockefeller Sale. Major prices for the artist are an enduring phenomenon, a noteworthy example being the 1905 work Au Lapin Agile, which sold for $40.7 million in 1989 (the third-highest ever price of all time as of the sale date).
The above being said, it is still possible to acquire investment-quality works by Picasso for below $10 million, as well as works on paper or prints for substantially less. The artist's long, productive career afford today's collectors this opportunity, which is something that cannot be said for other major names like Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, Robert Rauschenberg or Jean-Michel Basquiat. In fact, more than 700 Picasso paintings have been available at auction since 2000.
Demand for the artist's work remains extremely high, as we observe the market continue to strengthen. Picasso consistently ranks high, if not first, on art market ranking lists such as ArtFacts, where Picasso oscillates between first and second place, typically competing with Andy Warhol. Per The Art Newspaper, “Picasso has proven nearly impervious to the art market’s boom-bust cycles, dipping only twice in the past decade and improving in recovery each time, according to the art economist Roman Kräussl, a professor of finance at the University of Luxembourg” (2018). Kräussl's published research observes that Picasso evening sale average prices have risen six-fold in the past two decades.
With Christie's and Sotheby's preference towards significant, record-breaking works, private galleries can provide opportunity to acquire more financially accessible works. Late works by Picasso, dating to 1960 or after, represent a ripe investment category within the realm of the artist's oeuvre - with so many epoch-defining masterpieces being churned out in the first few decades of the 20th century, art historians and collectors have more recently begun to study and invest in a somewhat overlooked period of the artist's career.
As with any work of art, authenticity, condition, provenance, and beauty greatly influence the value, short and long-term, for a work by Picasso. Yet, part of the beauty of collecting work by the distinguished artist is that we expect its value to continue to climb. Given, the artist's century-plus long tenure of exceptional fame, it seems fair to count him among the shortlist of art historical greats, on par with Michelangelo, Rembrandt, and Monet.