Picasso's "Child with a Dove" Might Take Flight

Picasso's "Child with a Dove" Might Take Flight
Somerset House, London - home to the Courtauld Gallery
(Jan van der Crabben)

An early Picasso painting, which has been publically displayed in Britain since 1974, is to be sold at Christie's if no public museum or gallery comes forward and bid for it in the next three months.

"Child with a Dove" (1901) was painted by the Spaniard in Paris at the beginning of his "Blue Period," when he was only 19. It pictures a small child holding a white bird to her chest, a multi-colored ball lying at her feet. "This is a particularly iconic picture," a representative of the Courtauld Gallery told ARTINFO UK. "It's much loved, particularly because of the subject matter of a child with a dove, so it's always been a very popular picture wherever it's been on view. "

The piece has been in the Aberconway family since 1928, when it was bequeathed to Lady of Aberconway Christabel McLaren by legendary British collector Samuel Courtauld. It was on display at the National Gallery from 1974 to 2011, and since then at the Courtauld Gallery. It is currently on show at Tate Britain's "Picasso and Modern British Art" blockbuster exhibition.

"It's a really important work for us because it was owned by one of the greatest British collectors of modern art, and it was a really singular picture within his collection," Tate's Helen Little told ARTINFO UK.

"Child with a Dove" is thought to be worth £50 million ($79 million). Since the piece was publically shown, the current owner was exempt from inheritance tax when he first received the piece, but this tax would become payable if the work was to be sold privately. Under UK regulations, owners in this situation have to publish a notice of intention of sale via the Arts Council England's Acquisitions, Exports, Loans and Collections Unit, and allow three months for national collections to decide whether they are in a position to acquire it.

Although there are notoriously few Picassos in British public collections, and a private sale might mean that the picture would leave the UK, a public purchase is unlikely — even at a preferential rate. Most of the National Gallery's "legacy reserves" were recently spent on purchasing Titian's "Diana and Callisto," the sister painting to his "Diana and Actaeon," which was acquired in partnership with the National Galleries of Scotland in 2009.

The Courtauld Gallery would be a natural home for "Child with a Dove," but the organization has no acquisition budget. "We are utterly dependent on people who gift, bequeath, or loan us paintings," said the Courtauld Gallery representative. "We will not be setting up a fund to try and save it."