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Shares in Picasso painting go up for grabs in blockchain sale

Picasso’s ‘Fillette au béret’ before being auctioned in Sweden in 2016 TT News Agency via AFP / Pontus Lundahl

Fans of Pablo Picasso will soon be able to own a share in one of his paintings for less than $6,000 (CHF5,500) – although that won’t actually buy them the right to see the work, which will be stored under lock and key in Switzerland.

Fillette au béret (Young girl with a beret) is being sold – or “tokenised” – via the blockchain in what Sygnum, the digital asset-focused Swiss bank organising the sale, says is a world first.

“This marks the first time the ownership rights in a Picasso, or any artwork, are being broadcast onto the public blockchain by a regulated bank,” Sygnum and co-organiser Artemundi, an art investment company, said.

Subscriptions for the CHF4 million ($4.35 million) sale are expected to open at the end of July, with tradable shares in the painting available for CHF5,000 and above.

The 1964 work depicting a beret-capped child in bright colours on canvas was last sold for 21.4 million Swedish krona (CHF2.27 million) by auction house Uppsala Auktionskammare in 2016.

Non-fungible tokens

It is not the first painting by Picasso (1881-1973) to rub shoulders with the blockchain. Driven by a surge this year in the market for non-fungible tokens (NFTs), often focused on digital-only artworks and other virtual items, Sotheby’s flagged an NFT-linked sale of Picasso’s Le peintre et son modèle in June.

The painting sold for £2.25 million (CHF2.86 million), though plans for the joint sale of an NFT – a one-of-a-kind token that exists on a blockchain – that would link ownership to a digital version were scrapped, the auction house said.

Also in June, NFT art market Unique.One opened an auction for an NFT tied to a Picasso print, Fumeur V, which in April had sold at Christie’s for £15,000. The print – one of 50 of the same work – was first displayed at a gallery in Denver before being burnt to create the NFT The Burned Picasso.

However, in the Fillette au béret sale, the tokens are fungible – or exchangeable – and no Picasso will be burnt. But no physical artwork will change hands either, as the painting, while being available for loan to museums and exhibitions, will be stored in a high-security facility, the organisers said.

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