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The Most Valuable Image of Buffalo Bill

Is this the most valuable image of Buffalo Bill Cody in the world? Experts estimate that it could fetch upwards of $15 Million at auction on Thursday, when it hits the auction block at Christie's in New York.

Buffalo Bill is an example of "Analytical Cubism" painted by world-famous artist Pablo Picasso in 1911, just six years before Bill Cody's death. Picasso probably caught Buffalo Bill's Wild West in Paris in 1905, the second visit the show made to the "City of Lights," the first being a five-month visit in the summer of 1889. Picasso was taken by Cody and his show, and for the rest of his life maintained a love of cowboy accouterments like lassos, Stetsons, and revolvers and occasionally signed letters "Pard."

Pablo Picasso.

This painting was purchased by one of Picasso's earliest and most enthusiastic supporters, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler. It was last sold at Sotheby’s auction house in London in 1986, and has remained in private hands, though it was a prominent part of the MoMA's 1989-90 exhibition, “Picasso and Braque, Pioneering Cubism.” Picasso wasn't the only European artist influenced by Buffalo Bill. The scores of Cody's admirers included several who actually saw the great scout perform live. Rosa Bonheur was allowed to sketch and paint the animals that were part of the show and painted a striking portrait of Buffalo Bill as a gift to thank him for allowing her such unfettered access. “Buffalo Bill was extremely good to me,” she later recalled. “I drew studies of [his] buffaloes, horses, and weapons, all tremendously interesting.”

Buffalo Bill painted by Rosa Bonheur

“[I] walk about like a savage, with long hair,” painter Paul Gauguin wrote the summer after visiting Buffalo Bill's Wild West in Paris in 1889. “I have cut some arrows and amuse myself on the sands by shooting them just like Buffalo Bill.” When Gauguin left France for Tahiti, he wore a prized Stetson purchased after watching the cowboys perform in Cody's show. When Picasso's Buffalo Bill hits the auction block on Thursday, we'll see if this is the most valuable and expensive image of Cody in history.

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