Picasso “Au Cirque” 1954. Photo credit Independant Media

Provenance, Picasso and creating your oeuvre.

The other day, a young artist asked me “What does Provenance mean?” Well, it’s the story of an art object. It’s about the exhibitions and owners of your art. You put it in your catalogue raisonné because it shows the history of a work of art, which gives the piece some personality, making it a talking point on your wall. It brings kudos to your whole oeuvre. If your work has been shown in a gallery or bought by a collector, it validates your art.

Let’s look at this drawing, “ Au Cirque”, the first original Pablo Picasso coloured crayon drawing to be auctioned in South Africa.

Lisa van Leeuwen, speaking for auctioneers Stephen Welz & Co, said that with any artwork of this calibre, it was important to be able to trace its provenance. Any bidders on “Au Cirque” will be pleased to know that it can be traced back to Picasso’s Paris dealer, Galerie Louise Leiris.

“From there it made its way across the Atlantic to New York where it was sold to a prominent New York collector by the Saidenberg Gallery which held its first exclusive Picasso exhibition in 1955–56.”

The drawing has also been sold twice before at auction, by Sotheby’s in New York: in 1990, for $154 000, and again in 2006 for $240 000.

Now, I’m not one for the money side of things in art, but the provenance of a work of art can be a fun tale in it’s own right. I prefer to think of it as being about the artistic merit of the work, however. If it can sit side by side with other artists, if curators see it as an important piece to complete an exhibition, then it endorses your art in the wider world.

For my money, this must come after the “why”, the reason to create, the reason to explore your artistic practice. And I’m sure that in 1954, when Picasso picked up his kids’ colouring crayons, he didn’t wonder for a moment if this drawing would travel the world. So don’t think about where you want individual works to be, what museums you’d like them to end up in. Concentrate on where you want your oeuvre to go.

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