NOTHING BUT THE BEST

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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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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