'I wish I had these pictures,' one leading dealer in 19th-century art said. 'We won't see another collection like this,' said another, squeezed up against a Joan Miro bronze sculpture. About 600 people crammed into the sale room.
Opportunities to buy fine Cezannes are so rare that the collapse in the art market and the Eighties boom in Impressionist and modern art had seemed irrelevant in the run-up to the sale. Although the days of a Cezanne selling for pounds 11m are gone, dealers were surprised that the Five Bathers, an image with which Cezanne played repeatedly throughout his life, sold for only pounds 3.02m, within an estimate of pounds 2.8m to pounds 3.6m. However, The Man Smoking a Pipe - the only surviving study for the figure that crops up in The Card Players series - made pounds 3.52m. Its estimate was only pounds 1.6-pounds 2.4m. Bidding for that work rose slowly, with Charles Allsopp, chairman of Christie's and last night's auctioneer, hanging over the rostrum in an attempt to entice more bids.
The paintings, which span the artist's changing style over 30 years, came from the collection of Auguste Pellerin (1852-1929), a French industrialist and collector with a burning passion for Cezanne. He bought his first Cezanne in 1895 - when relatively few others were interested in him - and, transferring his affection for Corot and Manet, eventually owned more than 100 Cezannes. Most of those paintings can today be found in museums across the world. The seven paintings at Christie's yesterday were sold by an unidentified European foundation.
The powerfully analytical, almost violent, self-portrait of 1866, in which Cezanne forsook a brush for a pallet knife, sold for pounds 1.04m (estimate pounds 1m-pounds 2m). It was once owned by Emile Zola, the French novelist and Cezanne's friend until Zola's novel of 1886, The Work: It was based on Cezanne's life and ends with the artist as a failure. If a painting can sell in a recession for pounds 3.52m, Cezanne has had the last laugh.