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Picasso's 'Tete de Femme' breaks cover to fetch £8.1m

A Picasso masterpiece unseen in public for 43 years fetched more than twice its expected price at auction - going for £8.1 million.

Tete de Femme (Jacqueline), a 1963 portrait of the artist's second wife, had not been seen in public since 1967 and was expected to fetch £3 million to £4 million at last night's sale, Christie's said.

The portrait had never been offered at auction and had remained in the same collection since 1981.

It was the the most talked-about lot of a string of masterpieces by Picasso, Renoir and Matisse which went under the hammer and raised a total of nearly £77 million.

Christie's Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale, held in London, took place ahead of another large art auction at Sotheby's tonight.

The Sale of Impressionist and Modern Art features Alberto Giacometti's L'Homme qui marche I, a life-size bronze, which is estimated to fetch up to £18 million.

At Christie's last night, Tete de Femme (Jacqueline) fetched £8,105,250, including the buyer's premium.

Jacqueline was said to have had a short neck and the artist would often "humorously" exaggerate its size in portraits.

A Christie's spokeswoman would not reveal the identity of the winning bidder.

Kees van Dongen's La Gitane fetched £7,097,250, Henri Matisse's Nu aux jambes croisees sold for £3,793,250, while Natalia Goncharova's Espagnole went for £6,425,250.

"It's been a very busy evening and many of the pieces have exceeded estimates," a Christie's spokeswoman said.

Espagnole, circa 1916, was described by Christie's as "one of the finest examples of the artist's work to be offered at auction".

It is being publicly exhibited for the first time since 1971 and had been predicted realise £4 million to £6 million.

Gitane, circa 1910 to 1911, was described as a "striking" portrait by the Dutch artist, executed at one of the most important periods of his career.