Spring auctions at Sotheby's and Christie's starting this week in New York are expected to confirm a return to the good times for the art market, although not at pre-recession record prices.
As every year, the two big rival auction houses will hold impressionist and modern sales first, followed by contemporary sales the following week.
With Wall Street profits roaring back from the 2007-2008 financial crisis, the auctions will feature a string of top-end works aimed at big-spending collectors.
Christie's opens the season with 72 lots on Tuesday, including the collection of Frances Lasker Brody, a philanthropist from Los Angeles who died last year. Brody's collection includes the main feature of the sale, Picasso's "Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust," estimated to sell for between 70 and 90 million dollars.
That could put the Picasso within range of the world record for his works, which was 104 million dollars paid for "Garcon a la Pipe" in New York in 2004.
"The Brodys bought it in the '50's. It was only exhibited once in 1961. When we got into Brody's house in November it was quite an experience," said Conor Jordan, head of the impressionist department for Christie's.
The New York Times reports that Christie's and Sotheby's battled for four months to win the Brody sale, with the winner coming away after offering an undisclosed guaranteed sum to be paid to the sellers, whatever the result of the auction.
This revives a practice largely abandoned when the late 2008 financial meltdown hit the art market.
Other Christie's auction stars are the rural scene "Fertility" by German Edvard Munch, which is estimated at 25 to 35 million dollars, and a Matisse called "Nu au coussin bleu," estimated to sell for 20 to 30 million dollars.
Sotheby's may have missed out on the Brody collection but on Wednesday will sell a string of masterpieces including a Matisse called "Bouquet pour le 14 juillet 1919," estimated at 18 to 25 million dollars.
A comparable painting named "Les coucous, tapis bleu et rose," sold for 45.2 million dollars in Paris in 2009, setting a Matisse record.
During contemporary art week, Christie's is selling a remarkable collection from the late thriller writer Michael Crichton, author of "Jurassic Park."
The author's collection also includes an astonishing range of contemporary art, including "Flag," by Jasper Johns, as well as paintings from David Hockney, Jeff Koons, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol.
Sotheby's will be offering a huge self-portrait of Andy Warhol at an estimated price of 10 to 15 million dollars and a red canvas from Mark Rothko for 18 to 25 million dollars.
"Three years ago (the Rothko) would have been proposed at between 30 and 40 millions," said Tobias Meyer, head of contemporary art at Sotheby's. The record for a Rothko was set in New York in 2007 at 72 million dollars.Reuse content