Pablo Picasso has become the ultimate luxury brand. On May 3 at Sotheby’s New York Picasso’s rare and iconic 1941 portrait, Dora Maar au chat, became the world’s second most expensive painting when it sold for $85m (£48.3m) to a mystery buyer in the room, widely presumed to be representing a Russian oligarch.
Estimated at $50m-70m and contested by at least five bidders,
the Dora Maar portrait fell just $8m short of the all-time $93m
(£54.7m) record achieved two years earlier at Sotheby's for
Picasso's Garçon à la Pipe. Four out of 10 of the world's most
expensive paintings are now works by Picasso. Van Gogh still
features three times in this list, with the $75m (£45.7m) Portrait
of Dr Gachet sold at Christie's in May 1990 at the height of the
last art boom dropping to number three.
The recent shift in collectors' taste from Impressionism to
Modernism was tellingly underlined in New York on May 2 when
Christie's had to lower the reserve on Van Gogh's L'Arlesienne,
Madame Ginoux, in order to find a buyer.
This 1890 portrait of an ageing cafe proprietress wasn't, in
purely commercial terms, the most glamorous of images, but it had
been painted in the climactic last year of the painter's life and
it had never appeared at auction before. It was eventually knocked
down to an anonymous buyer, rumoured to be the Israeli shipping
magnate Sammy Ofer, for $36m (£20.5m), well below the published
Overall, however, the figures at Christie's and Sotheby's evening
Impressionist & Modern sales were exhibiting all the signs of a
booming market. Both auctions found buyers for over 85 per cent of
their lots. Christie's aggregate of $180m (£103m) was nearly $40m
up on the equivalent sale last year, while Sotheby's bumper $207.5m
(£119m) total was their highest since May 1990.
The art market is booming, but different art - and different
buyers - are generating the most serious prices this time
By Scott Reyburn
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