Rivera headlines Latin American art sale


NEW YORK — A painting that Sotheby’s hails as one of the most important pieces by Diego Rivera to go to auction in recent years will headline its Latin American art sale in May, the auction house said.

“Portrait of Senorita Matilde Palou” (1951) depicts Matilde Palou, a Chilean actress and singer who gained fame in Mexican cinema. The oil on canvas was last seen in public in 1988, when Sotheby’s sold it for US$203,000. On Wednesday, it will go on view in its galleries in Los Angeles as a prelude to the May 25 auction in New York.

“I saw Diego Rivera’s splendid portrait of Senorita Matilde Palou for the first time about 30 years ago … and again, just a few weeks ago. I was struck once again by her majestic beauty,” Axel Stein, Sotheby’s head of Latin American art, said in an email to The Associated Press. “The painting is a wonderful example of the artist at the height of his powers and a glorious symbol of Mexican national pride. It is undoubtedly one of the most important works by the artist to appear at auction in recent memory.”

The estimate for the 80 x 48 1/8 inches (203 x 122.3 cm) oil on canvas is US$2 million to US$3 million. The auction record for Rivera is US$3,082,500, set in 1995 with the painting “Baile en Tehuantepec” (1928) also at Sotheby’s.

“Portrait of Senorita Matilde Palou” was commissioned to the artist in 1950 by Osceola Heard Davenport, a wealthy Rio Grande Valley widow of an oilman whose heirs sold it through the auction house almost three decades ago.

In the painting, Palou is standing, reclining against what looks like a fireplace. She wears a resplendent dress covered in Mexican imagery, including flags, a coat of arms and Mexican jewelry.

For this painting, Rivera made a preparatory drawing in pencil and an oil sketch on canvas. The drawing, titled “Chiapaneca” and dedicated “To Chapo Linda. Diego Rivera 51,” shows the model in the same position, but with one more bracelet on her arm and a cigarette in her right hand.