Saturday 24 March 2018

Picasso work sells for record $179m to unnamed bidder

Global President of Christie's Jussi Pylkkaenen auctions off the Pablo Picasso's painting 'Les femmes d'Alger
Global President of Christie's Jussi Pylkkaenen auctions off the Pablo Picasso's painting 'Les femmes d'Alger

Philip Sherwell in New York

To hollering, cheers and applause, a lot of head-shaking and even more gasps, a Pablo Picasso masterpiece went under the hammer for a world record auction price on Monday evening of $179.4m (€162m).

There was an audible intake of breath in Christie's Rockefeller Centre auction room in midtown Manhattan when the bids for the vibrantly hued canvas of 'Les femmes d'Alger (Version O)' hit $150m.

At $151m, Jussi Pylkkanen, the Christie's president, chief auctioneer and master of ceremonies for the evening, declared: "We're in new territory".

And at $179.4m Mr Pylkkanen spread his arms, cast his eyes around the room a final time and brought down his hammer.

He later described the sale as "one of the greatest nights in auction history".

That final bid from an anonymous collector by telephone smashed by $37m the previous record for an artwork sold at auction - the $142m laid out in the same sale room in late 2013 for a Francis Bacon triptych of his friend and fellow artist Lucien Freud.

Artistic friendship was also a theme on Monday night. For Picasso embarked on his epic project of 15 versions of Les femmes d'Alger as an elegy to his friend and rival Henri Matisse, who died a few months earlier in 1954.

With their numbered bidding paddles by their sides, impeccably-coiffed attendees at the auction earlier pored over the catalogue in a foyer filled with works by modern art grandees such as Jeff Koons and Andy Warhol.

But for much of the evening - and nearly all the Picasso bidding - the real action was taking place elsewhere.

For as Mr Pylkkanen drove up the price by $1m increments, it was anonymous telephone bidders who were making the running. After a war of auction attrition, the winning bid for 'Les femmes d'Alger' went on behalf of an unnamed buyer.

The 'New York Times' had well-sourced information about the unnamed seller however, describing him as a Saudi Arabian collector who bought the piece at auction in 1997 and had kept it at one of his homes in London.

Now he had decided to sell.

Brooke Lampley, the head of Impressionist and Modern Art at Christie's, said: "In my 10 years at Christie's no sale has attracted so many of our top clients or so much excitement." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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