Mystery Picasso to boost uni coffers

PICASSO was so taken with 17-year-old Marie-Therese Walter when he spotted her on a Paris street in 1927, he knew he had to paint her, declaring, ''I'm Picasso - you and I are going to do great things together.''

The collaboration between artist and muse led him to paint many pictures of her. But one - rarely seen, and never in Australia - is about to bring the University of Sydney a windfall of about $18 million when it is auctioned in London in June.

The 1935 painting of a sleeping Walter, Jeune fille endormie, was given to the university by an overseas donor with three conditions: that the painting be sold, that the money go to scientific research at the university and that the donor remain anonymous.

The American donor flew to Australia last year to hand over the painting, said the university's vice-chancellor, Michael Spence. It had remained on the university's grounds most of the time since, while checks were made of its provenance.

Dr Spence declined to say how the donor became aware of the university's work in case it jeopardised the anonymity. But he expected the painting would be one of the largest gifts to the university in its history. The donor also gave jewellery, cash and bonds worth a significant amount, he said.

Jeune fille endormie is to go under the hammer on June 21 at Christie's. The auction house estimates the price at £9 million ($A13.8 million) to £12 million.

Last year, a 1932 portrait of Walter by Picasso, Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, set the world record for an auction price paid for an artwork, fetching $US106.4 million at Christie's in New York.

The director of Impressionist and modern art at Christie's in London, Giovanna Bertazzoni, called Jeune fille endormie, which was last exhibited publicly in 1941, ''an absolute jewel of a painting'' that took the viewer into the intimate sphere of Picasso and Walter.

He expected interest from collectors worldwide.


Dr Spence called the donation ''an extraordinary act of generosity'' that recognised the university's international reputation.

The sale's proceeds would go towards ''a variety of projects'' but mainly a $385 million centre that will carry out research into obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The multidisciplinary centre, billed as the only one of its kind, is to include researchers from physiologists and dietitians to economists and philosophers.

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