Picasso's 'blue' masterpiece yields record £39m

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The Independent Online

A painting from Picasso's blue period fetched a record $55m (£38.8m) at auction on Wednesday night in New York - the highest price reached for a work by the Spanish artist.

A painting from Picasso's blue period fetched a record $55m (£38.8m) at auction on Wednesday night in New York - the highest price reached for a work by the Spanish artist.

The price the work finally sold for, which was twice the pre-sale estimate of £17m, also made it the fifth most expensive painting sold at auction, beating Picasso's previous record of £33.1m.

Femme aux Bras Croises was sold during a tense evening at Christie's saleroom. In the end, three telephone bidders were left to fight it out and the crowd burst into applause when the gavel finally fell.

The Picasso was the highlight of an otherwise disappointing event. Both Christie's and its main rival, Sotheby's, have been under the cloud of a price-fixing scandal connected with commissions paid by vendors and buyers and the first big sale of the season ended with nearly half the works on offer remaining unsold.

Christopher Burge, the honorary chairman of Christie's America, said the sale demonstrated that buyers were still willing to spend money on top- quality items and that the market was as "strong as it has ever been. But with works of not quite top quality, particularly if the estimates have been pushed, the market is a great deal more selective," he added.

The sale took a total of £100m, far below the pre-sale estimate of £114m to £153m and only 58 per cent of the lots were sold. Mr Burge said he blamed the results on the lack of an important collection to make up part of the sale; the majority of the works came from individual sellers.

"It is a situation where there is not necessarily a great deal of top-quality material available ... we have to re-assess our approach to the market," he said.

"We can learn a lot from the results [of this sale]. Sellers cannot push the estimates."

Works by Monet, Manet, Gauguin, Cezanne and Degas were left unsold when the bidding petered out below the agreed-upon minimums; those works had been expected to fetch prices of between £3.5m and £7meach.

But it was not all doom and gloom at the sale, where 26 works of art did manage to fetch million-dollar prices, including Alberto Giacometti's Grande Femme Debout, which sold for slightly more than £10m - a record for the artist - and Monet's Les Peupliers, which just beat its sale estimate and sold for £4.9m, as well as another Picasso, Les Amants, which made £4.4m. Femme aux Bras Croises, which was bought by an anonymous collector, was included in the first Picasso retrospective organised in Paris in 1932 - a landmark exhibition that sealed his reputation. Painted in Barcelona in 1902, its first owner was the American writer and art patron Gertrude Stein. The painting was held in several private European collections before being bought by an American collector in 1936. Since 1972, the work has been on loan to and exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago.

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