This painting, which is a controversial one, broke all previous records. The previous record was held by Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucian Freud, which sold for $142.4m back in 2013.

Does the painting deserve all of this attention?

Women of Algiers, version 0, is a painting that is seminal in many ways. It is, therefore, probably worth the highest price for art. The image, which is not only a masterpiece of 20th-century art but also a pivotal moment in Picasso’s creative output and life, is also a significant one. The painting has been shown at major exhibitions, including the Picasso Retrospective New York in 1980 and the Tate Britain’s Great Late Picasso Show in 1988. It has become highly desirable and visible to collectors.

A well-known piece of art rarely makes it to an auction room. As such, this auction was bound to set a new record. It’s up for debate whether the work is worth this amount of money.

The seminal work

This painting is arguably the finest of a series of works on the same theme, which were made in a very short period in 1955. This painting is a reinterpretation of a Delacroix work called Women of Algiers. Delacroix had been one of Picasso’s greatest Masters. The series was also an homage to Matisse, who died recently.

This final painting is the culmination of all the changes in composition and alterations Picasso has made throughout the series. Four female figures are featured in the image, which refers to two women from Picasso’s personal life. Jacqueline Roque is Picasso’s current partner, and Francoise Gillet is his former lover. The interior is calm and refined. The space is filled with eroticism. The sharpened edges on the limbs, bodies and torsos enhance this.

The Women of Algiers by Eugene Delacroix. 1834.

Picasso was a serial worker. These motifs, which are a combination of dissolved, recomposed and absorbed forms and shapes, are typical of Picasso, and hint at his quest for a new dynamic and structure in painting.

Jacqueline Roque is portrayed in a sensual, erotic way. She resembles the central character of Delacroix’s painting from 1834 (Louvre in Paris). Francoise is in the doorway, drifting away into the background. The day before the image was created, Olga (mother to Paulo), Picasso’s wife and first child, had died in Cannes.

The historical context, the detail of the painting, and the fact that it was created shortly after the French conquest in Algeria during the fall of 1954 when Algerians began their uprising to gain independence, all combine to make this a masterpiece of art.

This is one of Picasso’s best transcriptions, a reworking or reworking of an earlier subject painting. It is a major work of Picasso’s late career in this context, partly because the picture places itself self-consciously within the history of art. The image refers to his friend Matisse, who died recently, and their shared identification with the tradition and continuation of the painting.

Public Eyes

It remains to be seen if the painting will ever be displayed again. It is likely that it won’t, as the buyer remains anonymous. This sale represents a loss for the public who enjoys art. The painting is likely to disappear from public view and be placed in a private collection to only be seen by a few. It may even be kept in a vault to accumulate value. It may be decades before the painting is available to loan.

We, as art visitors, can do little to prevent this from happening with more art. Just hope that the artworks currently in public national galleries are maintained. The value of art is increasing, and it will be harder and harder for government and galleries to implement strategies that are effective in acquiring and displaying works.

recently distributed a collection consisting of 40 paintings of Frank Auerbach that belonged to Lucien Freud, his friend and painter who passed away in 2011. The paintings were distributed in exchange for a PS16m inheritance bill to around 20 galleries, including Cardiff, Aberdeen, and Belfast. It’s encouraging to know that the collection contains some important pieces, and they will not be sold at auction. The government can act in the best interests of the public and add quality works to our national art collections.

Women of Algiers Version O will, for now, remain in our memories until it, hopefully, resurfaces at auctions again in the future. Before then, look at the original image in its entirety.