It had been sent for sale by one of the mystery collectors of Japan, Dr Hiroshi Ishizuka. An inventor who has generated vast wealth from his techniques for making industrial diamonds and slicing marble, he has collected Impressionists, Old Masters and British pictures. No one in New York seems to know why he is selling; he has already sold several Old Masters with Christie's in London.
The Monet was by far the most important painting in Christie's sale and had been estimated to fetch dollars 8m-dollars 10m (pounds 5.3m- pounds 6.5m). However, many pundits believed it would not sell; its huge size would have ruled it out for many collectors. 'It's a museum picture,' one dealer told me (although no museum entered the bidding).
The interest in the picture was no doubt encouraged by the vast prices recorded at Sotheby's Impressionist auction the night before, most notably the dollars 28.6m ( pounds 19m) for a Cezanne. It is characteristic of sales in the United States that one or two big prices for major works encourages collectors to spend more freely on lesser ones. As a result, Christie's sold a higher proportion of the paintings on offer than Sotheby's: 80 per cent compared with 64 per cent.
Auction prices are beginning to stabilise after their collapse in 1991-92, but they have not climbed back to former levels. Christie's sold a Fauve Braque, Le Canbal Saint Martin, Paris, of 1906 for dollars 882,500 (pounds 588,300) on behalf of the French actor Alain Delon; he had paid more than dollars 3m (just over pounds 2m) for it in November 1989. Mr Delon has always been a keen art collector but purchases made at the height of the boom have got him in financial trouble; there is a court case running in Paris over non-payment for a major picture.
The most intense bidding battle of the evening was over a large Degas pastel of Danseuses Russes dating from around 1895; it was estimated at dollars 2.5m-dollars 3.5m (pounds 1.6m- pounds 2.3m) and soared to dollars 6,272,500 (just over pounds 4m).
Surrealism appeared to be out of fashion. One of the greatest Surrealist collections, the Menil Foundation of Houston, Texas in the US, was attempting to sell off works to generate purchase funds but with little success. Their most important offering, Magritte's La Folie des Grandeurs, was left unsold at dollars 650,000 ( pounds 433,000) and the others sold below estimate.