A painting from the 1950s by the 20th century master Pablo Picasso entitled Women of Algiers has become the most expensive painting to sell at auction, The painting went under the hammer last night at Christie’s Auctioneers in New York. Selling for a staggering $179.3m (£115m). The final price of $179,365,000 which includes Christie’s commission pushes the price by just over 12%. This painting now joins other masterpieces such as Gustav Klimt – Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer £73m, Munch’s Scream £74 million. and Three Studies of Lucian Freud by Francis Bacon £89m as the top selling works of art.
The lot took eleven minutes of ‘edge of seat bidding’ from frantic telephone buyers preceded the final drop of the hammer. The painting went over the pre-sale estimate which was $140m. The evening sale also featured Alberto Giacometti’s life-size sculpture Pointing Man, which set a record as the most expensive sculpture, at $141.3m.
The previous world record for a painting sold at auction was $142.4m, for British painter Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucian Freud. That sold at Christie’s in 2013.
Les femmes d’Alger (Version “O”) was the star lot in Christies New York Impressionist and Modern sale. The painting is the culmination of a herculean project which Picasso started after Matisse’s death, in homage to his lost friend and competitor, and which over a period of 2 months and after nearly 100 studies on paper and 14 other paintings led to the creation of this phenomenal canvas in February 1955. With its packed composition, play on cubism and perspective, its violent colors, and its brilliant synthesis of Picasso’s lifelong obsessions, it is a milestone in Picasso’s oeuvre and one of his most famous masterpieces, together with Les demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907 and Guernica, 1937.
Les femmes d’Alger (Version “O”), 1955 last appeared at auction in 1997, as a key highlight of Christie’s sale devoted to the celebrated collection of Victor and Sally Ganz. The Ganzes were the original owners of the the full, 15-painting series Les femmes d’Alger, bought directly from Picasso’s dealer Daniel Kahnweiler, who had cannily insisted that one buyer purchase the entire group. Victor and Sally Ganz complied, acquiring the series on June 6, 1956 for $212,500. They later sold ten to the Saidenberg Gallery, keeping Versions C, H, K, M and O for themselves. Version C was sold in 1988 following the death of Victor Ganz, and the remaining four, including Version “O”, were sold as individual lots at the 1997 sale at Christie’s New York. The collection totaled $206.5 million, setting an auction record for any single-owner collection at the time. Les femmes d’Alger (Version “O”) was sold for $31,902,500, more than twice its high estimate of $12 million.
Photos: Courtesy Christie’s New York all rights reserved