The $160 million Picasso

The $160 million Picasso

Pablo Picasso would be a happiest man if he was alive.

A Picasso oil painting from 1955 smashed the record for the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction when it soared to $179.4 million at Christie’s on Monday.

The auction house had estimated “Les femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’)” would sell for about $140 million, but several bidders competing via telephone drove the winning bid to $160 million, for a final price of $179,365,000 including Christie’s commission of just over 12 percent.


This bold and colorful painting just became the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction — at an eye-popping $160 million. And that doesn’t count the commission paid to auction house Christie’s, which adds another $19.35 million for a total of $179.35 million.

Pre-auction estimates said the painting would go for a mere $140 million, so you can bet Christie’s is pretty happy today. The multi-millionaire buyer’s identity? Still unknown.


The cubist painting, created in 1955, was part of a special sale at Christie’s called “Looking Forward to the Past.” The entire lot was expected to bring in a total of more than $500 million. Previously, the most expensive artwork sold at auction had been Francis Bacon’s “Three Studies of Lucian Freud,” which Christie’s sold for $142.4 million in 2013.


“Les Femmes d’Alger” — known as “version O” to distinguish it from the 14 previous paintings Picasso made with this name — was last sold at auction in 1997 for $31.9 million. And again, the buyer was anonymous That means someone just made a tidy profit in the realm of $130 million, simply for holding on to one of the 20th century’s greatest works of art for 18 years. In your face, Apple shareholders.


Ten artists’ records were set at Christie’s special “Looking Forward to the Past” sale, which spanned collecting categories to include artists from Monet to Warhol and took in a total of $705.9 million, far above the pre-sale estimate of $578 million to $668 million. Only one of the 35 works failed to sell.

The record-setting Picasso was last auctioned in 1997, selling for $31.9 million or nearly three times its pre-sale estimate. Bidding started this time at $100 million, with deep-pocketed collectors driving the price upward in $1 million increments.

Christie’s said active bidders came from 35 countries, with European and Asian collectors in particular competing with Americans for the top-tier works.


Works like Picasso’s Femmes, Alberto Giacometti’s L’Homme Au Doigot (which sold on Monday for over $140 million), or Edvard Munch’s Scream (almost $120 million in 2012) have helped the art market set an incredible upward pace. This week, the market will face a test of character, with Christie’s and Sotheby’s offering important works by blue chip post-war and contemporary artists including Cy Twombly, Lucian Freud, Mark Rothko, and Jean-Michel Basquiat, among others. After successive records over the past few years, with Christie’s evening sale last November hitting a world-record of $852.9 million, Artnet’s Brian Boucher suggests we could see a ten-digit auction once the dust settles.

With $705.9 million in sales on Monday at Christie’s, the week’s off to a good start.






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