Degas dancers fetch pounds 4.75m in lively sale: Bidders pack auction room as market in expensive pictures undergoes a revival

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The Independent Online
THE MARKET in expensive pictures came back to life on Tuesday night when a Degas pastel of ballerinas was sold for dollars 7,042,500 ( pounds 4.75m) at Christie's in New York.

A European collector bidding by telephone bought Danseuses se baissant, which had been estimated to fetch dollars 4m. On many pictures four or five people bid at high figures, creating a sense of excitement and competition in the packed auction hall.

The mood had changed from the days of the recession and although prices had not returned to their 1990 boom levels, they were pushing upwards once again.

Christie's began its sale with a group of eight pictures from the estate of Joseph Gruss, a Pole who fled to the Unites States in 1939 and made a fortune in oil and gas. By the early 1950s he had started to buy minor, decorative Impressionist works - including the Degas.

The first two lots in the sale were Pissarro drawings, peasant scenes executed in pastel. They sold for double estimate at dollars 178,500 ( pounds 120,600) and dollars 332,500 ( pounds 224,662). A Van Gogh vase of flowers dated to 1886 also climbed to double estimate at dollars 1.51m ( pounds 1.02m).

Bidding was unexepectedly restrained, however, on an early Monet landscape from the collection which sold for dollars 662,500 ( pounds 447,635) against an estimate of dollars 900,000 to dollars 1.2m.

Pictures that had been recently on the market were much more difficult to sell. A Renoir paining of a mother feeding her baby, Maternite, painted in 1886, had made dollars 8.8m ( pounds 5.9m) at Sotheby's in 1988, but there were no bidders this time around. It was bought back for the owner at dollars 4.8m ( pounds 3.24m).

The 20th-century section of the sale proved much less popular with bidders than the Impressionists. The sales were dominated by American buyers, but Europeans secured some of the most expensive lots.

(Photograph omitted)