Rare double-sided Picasso painting up for auction

Luke Graham, special to CNBC

A double-sided painting by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso is to be sold at a Sotheby's auction in November and is expected to fetch at least $60 million.

"La Gommeuse", which depicts a naked woman, currently belongs to American business magnate Bill Koch, who bought the painting in 1984 and has kept it in his private collection. Conservation work commissioned by Koch in 2000 discovered a second painting -- a portrait of Picasso's friend, Pere Mañach -- on the reverse of the canvas, which had been hidden under the lining.

Left: La Gommeuse, painted by Pablo Picasso in 1901. Right: A portrait hidden on the reverse of La Gommeuse
William I. Koch Collection | Sotheby's

The picture was created in 1901, when Picasso was just 19 years old and dealing with depression following the suicide of his friend, Carlos Casagemas. The painting forms part of Picasso's "Blue Period" between 1901 and 1904, when most of his works were painted in shades of blue and blue-green in reflection of his depressed mood.

"Picasso's Blue Period is prized as his breakthrough – this is the moment Picasso becomes Picasso. With her dreamy gaze and frank sensuality, the cabaret dancer in La Gommeuse ushers in a new visual idiom for the 20th century," said Simon Shaw, co-head of Sotheby's worldwide impressionist and modern art department, in a press release.

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"Exploring themes which would underpin Picasso's work for the next seven decades, the painting stands squarely between the bohemian nightlife of Toulouse-Lautrec and the raw expressionism of Munch and Schiele."

The painting's value is estimated in excess of $60 million, a representative of Sotheby's told CNBC via email.

Alongside the painting, Koch is also selling "Nymphéas" by Clause Monet. Painted in 1908, it is valued between $30 to $50 million.

"'La Gommeuse' and 'Nymphéas' hung together in the salon of Bill Koch's beautiful home. These are two icons of art history," added Shaw.

"La Gommeuse" is on display in London from 10-15 October as part of Frieze Week, a modern arts fair in the capital. It will be on sale in in New York on November 5.

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