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Picasso's villa sold twice to the same man

Rory Mulholland
The villa in which Pablo Picasso spent the last years of his life - AFP

The Riviera villa overlooking the bay of Cannes where Picasso spent his twilight years was sold again on Thursday, to the same man who bought it four months ago, in yet another twist in a long-running saga.

The New Zealand businessman Rayo Withanage now has two months to come up with just over €20 million (£18 million) to buy the converted farmhouse and estate where the Spanish-born artist spent the last 12 years of his life until his death aged 91 in 1973.

He was the highest bidder at an auction in June for the estate at Mougins in the hills above Cannes, but the Dutch Achmea Bank, which is selling the villa, put it back under the hammer on Thursday because it said Mr Withanage had failed to come up the necessary funds.

Pablo Picasso seated at a table at the villa  Credit:  Gjon Mili

The latest auction, with bids starting at €20.2, was held in a courtroom in the town of Grasse but the only bidder was Withanage.

The judge presiding over the sale ruled that he was the successful bidder at the opening price, and gave the Fiji-born financier a further two months to come up with the cash to complete his purchase of the house where Winston Churchill was once a frequent visitor.

Maxime Van Rolleghem, a lawyer for the bank selling the house, said: "We have been in discussions with him for a year. Let's hope he gets over the finishing line.”

He described the 15-bedroom property and three-hectare estate as a "bargain". "We are disappointed. It is worth at least €30 million," he told AFP news agency.

Picasso lived in the villa with his muse and second wife Jacqueline Roque, who in 1986 committed suicide there.

Her daughter Catherine Hutin-Blay sold the estate to a Dutch owner, who renamed it the “Cavern of the Minotaur” after the painter’s obsession with the mythical beast, but was forced to sell when he got into financial difficulty after carrying out extensive work on the property.

Before Picasso, the house had belonged to the Anglo-Irish Guinness brewing family. Churchill, a keen amateur artist, was a frequent visitor, and liked to paint in the grounds.