This Picasso could become priciest painting ever auctioned

The big spring auctions are still more than six weeks away, but there are already signals that they could continue to fuel the art market's dizzying climb.

Among the new records that could be set is that of the most expensive painting ever sold at auction.

Christie's said Wednesday that Pablo Picasso's 1950s masterpiece "Les femmes d'Alger (Version 'O')" will be up for bid at a special sale on May 11. The painting could fetch more than $140 million, possibly topping the record $142 million sale of a Francis Bacon triptych that was sold by Christie's in 2013. (While the Bacon triptych, "Three Studies of Lucian Freud," is the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction, other works have sold for more in private sales).

Picasso's Women of Algiers Version 'O' is up for auction at Christie's.
Emile Wamsteker | AP

The Picasso was previously owned by Victor and Sally Ganz, who sold their collection at a Christie's auction in 1997 for more than $200 million. In that sale, "Femmes" was acquired for $31.9 million. That means if the painting fetch the estimated price it will be a more than four-fold increase in value over 18 years. That's nearly twice the gains of the stock market over the same period.

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The painting will be offered in a special sale called "Looking Forward to the Past," which will be in addition to the auction house's usual spring sales.

"Many new global collectors chasing masterpieces have been waiting for an iconic Picasso to appear on the market," said Jussi Pylkkanen, Christie's global president. "None is more iconic than "Les femmes d'Alger." The sale ... promises to be a sale to remember."

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The piece took Picasso more than two months and over 100 studies to create. With its intricate composition and vibrant colors, the work may well be "the single most important painting by Picasso to remain in private hands," Christie's said.

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