Carlo Allegri/Reuters

A Picasso sets art auction record in $179.4m sale

Picasso’s “Les femmes d'Alger (Version ‘O’)” from 1955 had a presale estimate of $140 million

Pablo Picasso’s “Les femmes d'Alger (Version ‘O’)” painting sold for $179.4 million including the commission for the auction house Christie’s of just over 12 percent on the winning $160 million bid. The price is the highest on record for a work of art sold at auction, said the compan, which estimated the 1955 painting would sell for $140 million.

The buyer of the work at the “Looking Forward to the Past” sale of 20th century works was not identified.

Before Monday night, the most expensive artwork sold at auction had been Francis Bacon's “Three Studies of Lucian Freud,” which Christie's sold for $142.4 million in 2013.

Minutes later, Giacometti's 1947 sculpture, “L'homme au doigt” (Pointing man), set a new world record for sculpture, selling for $141.3 million, in line with the presale estimate of about $130 million. The previous record for a sculpture sold at auction was $104.3 million paid for Alberto Giacometti's "L'Homme qui marche I" in 2010.

The buyer of the Giacometti also elected to remain anonymous.

Christie's global president, Jussi Pylkkanen, who was the auctioneer, said the two pieces are outstanding works of art.

“I've never worked with two such beautiful objects,” he said.

Overall, 34 of 35 lots sold for a total of $706 million at Monday's auction in Manhattan. The auction included works by Claude Monet, Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Peter Doig,

Bidding for the Picasso started at $100 million, as deep-pocketed collectors drove the price steadily upward in $1 million increments. The same work was last auctioned in 1997, when it sold for $31.9 million, which was nearly three times its pre-sale estimate.

“Women of Algiers,” once owned by the American collectors Victor and Sally Ganz, was inspired by Picasso's fascination with the 19th-century French artist Eugene Delacroix. It is part of a 15-work series Picasso created in 1954-55 designated with the letters A through O. It has appeared in several major museum retrospectives of the Spanish artist.

Another Picasso, “Buste de femme (Femme a la resille)” fetched $67.4 million, beating the high estimate of $55 million.

“Pointing Man,” depicting a skinny 5-foot (1.5-meter)-high bronze figure with extended arms, has been in the same private collection for 45 years. Giacometti, who died in 1966, made six casts of the work. Four are in museums, and the others are in private hands and a foundation collection.

His “Walking Man I” had held the auction record for a sculpture. It sold for $104.3 million in 2010.

Experts say the prices realized Monday night were driven by artworks' investment value and by wealthy collectors, many of them newly minted, seeking out the very best works.

“I don't really see an end to it, unless interest rates drop sharply, which I don't see happening in the near future,” Manhattan dealer Richard Feigen said.

Impressionist and modern artworks continue to corner the market because “they are beautiful, accessible and a proven value,” added Sarah Lichtman, professor of design history and curatorial studies at The New School.

“I think we will continue to see the financiers seeking these works out as they would a blue chip company that pays reliable dividends for years to come,” she said.

Last year auction houses Christie’s and Sotheby’s together had record-breaking sales of roughly $14 billion worth of art. 

Other highlights at Christie's on Monday night included Doig's “Swamped,” a 1990 painting of a canoe in a moonlit lagoon, which sold for almost $26 million, a record for the British artist. Monet's “The Houses of Parliament, At Sunset,” a lush painting of rich blues and magenta created in 1900-01, sold for $40.5 million.

Christie's also had a Mark Rothko for sale. “No. 36 (Black Stripe),” which had never appeared at auction, also sold for $40.5 million. The 1958 work was sold by German collector Frieder Burda, who exhibited it in his museum in Baden-Baden for several years.

Wire services

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