Picasso Fetches $179 Million

NEW YORK CITY -- To whoops and hollers, on Monday night Pablo Picasso’s 1955 painting, “Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’)” sold for $179.4 million with fees at Christie’s “Looking Forward to the Past” sale of artworks spanning the 20th century.

Art collectors of Art Kabinett social media network were in the audience to gasp at the record-breaking auction.

The amount was the highest on record for a work of art sold at auction, the company said, and was well over its estimate of $140 million.

The previous high price, also at Christie’s, had been the $142.4 million paid by Elaine Wynn, co-founder of the Wynn casino empire, for Francis Bacon’s “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” in November 2013.

But less than 30 minutes after the Picasso sale, Alberto Giacometti’s gaunt bronze sculpture, “L’homme au doigt (Pointing Man)” was hammered down for $126 million, or $141.3 million with fees.

For most auction-goers, it was the first time in memory a sale had included two works that were each estimated to sell for more than $100 million.

Picasso’s “Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’)”, shown here, is the most opulent and imposing of a series of paintings that the Spanish-born artist produced from 1954 to 1955 in response to Eugène Delacroix’s 1834 Orientalist masterpiece, “Women of Algiers.”

It had last been on the market in November 1997, when it sold for $31.9 million at a Christie’s auction of works owned by the American collectors, Victor and Sally Ganz.

It was bought at that auction by a Saudi Arabian collector and kept in a house in London, said two dealers with knowledge of the matter, who declined to be named, owing to concerns over confidentiality.

Monday night’s seller, who was not identified, had been guaranteed a minimum price by Christie’s, which estimated the work would fetch about $140 million.

Record-breaking Giacometti

The Swiss-born sculptor Giacometti is renowned for his hauntingly emaciated figures made in post-war Paris when Europe was in the grip of Existentialist angst.

He became one of the art market’s ultimate trophy names in February 2010 after the billionaire Lily Safra paid 65 million pounds (then $103.4 million) for the 1961 bronze, “Walking Man I,” at a Sotheby’s auction in London.

However, last night's example, the hand-painted bronze called “Pointing Man,” is regarded by many as an even more compelling sculpture.

Made in an edition of six, plus an artist’s proof, it had been acquired from the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York in 1970.

Christie’s anonymous seller has been identified as the New York real estate magnate Sheldon Solow. The Giacometti had been estimated to sell for $130 million and didn’t carry any financial guarantees.

“Looking Forward to the Past” was the creation of Christie’s contemporary specialist Loic Gouzer, whose auction of 35 works by on-trend contemporary artists — called “If I Live I’ll See You Tuesday” — raised $134.6 million for the auction house last May.

This time, Mr. Gouzer and his fellow specialists at Christie’s aimed to combine high-value, early 20th century works including Picasso, Giacometti and Monet, which would normally headline an Impressionist and modern sale, with desirable contemporary pieces by artists such as Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Peter Doig.

“This kind of cross-pollination is an effective way of getting collectors to buy in different areas,” said David Nisenson, a private dealer. “There’s a great demand for masterpieces, and there are a lot of wealthy new buyers who want to park their money.”

Today's homepage Featured Art Video visits last night's record-breaking auction action. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sF9JY4aD7VY&sns=em