NEW YORK –– A Picasso painting has sold for a world record-breaking US$179.4 million (BDS$539.8 million) at auction. Pablo Picasso’s 1955 cubist work Les Femmes D’Alger, or Women Of Algiers, went under the hammer today at Christie’s auction house in New York.
A telephone bidding war broke out, driving the price beyond estimates that it could sell for $140 million to $160 million, for a final price of $179,365,000, including Christie’s commission of just over 12 per cent.
The artwork beat the record for the most expensive painting bought at auction –– Francis Bacon’s triptych Three Studies Of Lucian Freud, which sold for $142.4 million at Christie’s in November, 2013. That series of three portraits was expected to get just $85 million before it sold.
Les Femmes D’Alger, which was last auctioned for US$31.9 million in 1997, is believed to have been painted as a tribute to the artist’s late friend Henri Matisse, who died in 1954.
The auction house had estimated Les Femmes D’Alger would sell for US$140 million. However, Picasso’s most famous paintings are in high demand and usually sell for a much higher price than the estimate.
The Picasso was the centerpiece of a highly anticipated sale of contemporary art today and Wednesday. All told, up to US$2.5 billion worth of art is expected to be sold, according to Philip Hoffman, chief executive of the Fine Art Fund Group, a global art investment house.
The painting had been sold privately since 1997, but Christie’s said the owner remained anonymous.
“One can arguably say that this is the single most important painting by Picasso
to remain in private hands,” said Olivier Camu, Christie’s deputy chairman of impressionist and modern art.
Christie’s says Picasso spent two months working on the project, which involved 100 studies on paper and 14 other paintings.
The portrait of nude courtesans, a common theme for Picasso, is painted in bright colours and abstract shapes.
Hoffman expects this week’s auction to be one of the richest on record. He said collectors were feeling flush thanks to improving economic conditions and the booming stock market.
“Buyers are prepared to spend serious money because they’re making serious money,” he said. “Right now is perfect time to sell art.”