Klimt sales take Christie's auction to $491.4m record

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The Independent US

A full house was not the only indicator of a good night at Christie's in Manhattan on Wednesday. More importantly, when the night's parade of Impressionist and modern art was done, there was the discovery that it had been the richest single auction in history.

"I've never seen anything like it," Christopher Burge, the honorary chairman of Christie's who wielded the gavel in the main sales room, said. "It was the most extraordinary auction I've been involved in."

By the time all the bidding was done - much of it by way of anonymous buyers over the phone - Christie's reported a final tally of $491.4m (£257.7m), far surpassing the previous record for a single sale set by the same auction house in 1990.

The sale included several works by Gustav Klimt, which were only recently returned to their rightful owner in a protracted Nazi restitution case, and it provided fresh proof that art is a hotter commodity than ever before.

Not even the withdrawal of a Picasso owned by the charitable foundation of Lord Lloyd-Webber, Portrait of Angel Fernandez de Soto, could dent the mood of the night. The picture has become ensnarled in yet other dispute about ownership and Nazi expropriation.

The loudest gasps came as Mr Burge offered Klimt's Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II which had been expected to sell for between $40m and $60m. A last-minute entrant among telephone bidders eventually secured the work $87.9m, a record for the Austrian artist. A record price of $40.3m was also paid for Gauguin's Man With an Ax.

But the night surely belonged to Klimt with four pictures on offer, all delivered earlier this year to Maria Altmann, a Los Angeles-based niece of the late Adele and Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, whose collection of artworks was seized after the Nazis annexed Austria in 1938. Ms Altmann watched the sale in a seat of honour in the Christie's Sky Box. Together, the four raised $192m.

The Christie's sale came just days after the Los Angeles entertainment mogul David Geffen sold a Jackson Pollock painting to a private collector for $140m, the highest price ever paid for a single work of art.