A 1905 work by Pablo Picasso titled "Young Boy with a pipe" became on May 5th 2004 the most expensive painting sold at auction in the world when it fetched $ 93 million at Sotheby's in New York.
The previous world record was held by a painting by Van Gogh titled "Portrait of Dr Gachet" sold for $ 82,5 million in 1990. The Picasso painting measuring 99,7 x 81,3 cm sub-titled "The Young Apprentice" represents a teenager, perhaps "P'tit Louis" (Young Louis) who used to be a regular visitor of the Bateau-Lavoir studios where Picasso first worked after his arrival in Paris in 1901.
Charles Moffet, head of Sotheby's department of Modern and Contemporary paintings, believed that the flowers surrounding the sitter's head, also shown with a crown of flowers, were added a month after Picasso had painted this portrait. This work has been considered as a masterpiece of Picasso's Pink Period. It belonged to the Greentree Foundation created in 1982 by Betsey Whitney after the death of her husband John Hay Whitney.
Betsey Whitney died in 1998 and the administrators of the Foundation thought that the sale of the painting would enable the renovation of the couple's property situated in Long Island in order to organize conferences on peace, human rights and international cooperation.
John Hay Whitney and his wife were among the biggest art collectors in the U.S. The painting, bought for a mere $ 30,000 in 1950, was in their house for more than half a century. Born in 1908, Betsey was the first wife of James Roosevelt, the eldest son of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, before she married John Hay Whitney who was the owner of the New York Herald Tribune and then head of the International Herald Tribune from 1963 until 1982.
"Young Boy with a pipe" fetched a record price because it had not been seen on the art market for so many years, specialists said. However, offered for sale privately at $ 25 million dollars, it had remained unsold before it was given to the care of Sotheby's. Still, it must be accepted as a major work produced during Picasso's youth at a crucial period, shortly after he had met Gertrude Stein who enabled him to escape from poverty and then reach fame after 1905.
Sotheby's recorded a turnover of almsot $ 190 million, 18% more than what was expected for this sale with a series of record bids for works by Blake, Bazille or Raoul Dufy.