Swiss puts pounds 4m on the table and Monet gets top dollar

Geraldine Norman finds a famous art house on a high as sale prices look like soaring back to 1980s levels
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The Independent Online
Until recently it was hanging in a Zurich restaurant, but yesterday, Joan Miro's La Table was so coveted by top collectors that the price soared to pounds 4,731,500 at Christie's summer auction. It was one of a group sent for sale by Swiss fabric designer Gustav Zumsteg, who lent his mother pictures to hang in her Kronenhalle restaurant.

The winning bid came from a Zurich dealer, Bruno Meissner, acting for a private Swiss collector.

La Table does not look at all like a Miro. It is one of the first he painted in Paris in 1920 with intense realism, a table with a live rabbit, cock, jar of oil, fish and vine leaves adorning the surface. His countryman Picasso was so impressed he sent his dealer friends to look at it - thus helping to launch Miro's career.

The other star turn of Christie's sale was one of Monet's famous series of paintings of Rouen cathedral, an afternoon view with the facade in full sun. Here the last visible bid in the room was at pounds 4.1m, in line with Christie's pre-sale estimate. After that, two telephones fought doggedly for possession running the price to pounds pounds 7,591,500. This was a picture for rich American punters, not Europeans.

There was also a battle for a Picasso drawing from the Zumsteg collection. Titled Tete de Femme, it dated from 1906 - she has a sharp angular face that looks forward to the famous Demoiselles d'Avignon. It sold to Olivier Berggruen, the young London dealer, at pounds 1,761,500 for his father's collection. Gems from Heinz Berggruen's collection have been on loan at the London National Gallery.

Lesser paintings had a bumpy ride with Britain's colourful Tory politician, Alan Clark, numbering among Christie's disappointed clients.

In an attempt to raise money for Saltwood Castle, the stately home he inherited from his connoisseur father, he had sent a Degas pastel of a woman vigrously sponging herself in the bath.

It stuck at pounds 550,000 against an estimate of pounds 700,000 to pounds 1m.

The sale made the highest total for a Christie's sale in London since June 1990 - the sale before the 1980s boom collapsed.

There were 17 out of 55 lots left unsold and only the rarest pictures made exceptionally strong prices but the auctioneers were very pleased.

The sale was conducted con brio by Christopher Burge, the British chairman of Christie's New York who he pointed out that he had not taken a sale in London for 20 years - when Christie's dealt in guineas.

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