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Alongside the traditional big May auctions put on by Christie’s and Sotheby’s, they also held a high profile, selected evening sale at the American Craft Museum as part of a Spring series that saw Picasso, Monet and Malevich top the respective auctions.

If the sales were subjected to more than usual scrutiny this year, it was to assess how far Phillips could profit from any public reaction the high-profile allegations of collusion between Sotheby’s and Christie’s. In the event sales at the big two held up well. Phillips’ much-hyped bid to join the really big league was a major step forward on previous years, but their attempt to get a toehold in the perceived crack caused by recent legal wrangles faltered nonetheless.

The highest price of the series was paid out for a Picasso when his Nature Morte aux Tulipes, a 1932 portrait of Marie Therèse Walter, sold for $26m (£17.7m) net in Christie’s $72.98m (premium inclusive) evening sale of 20th century art on May 9.

The day before their $104m evening auction of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art was led by a Monet waterlilies at $19m (£12.9m) but this was overtaken two days later when Sotheby’s saw a sunlight view of the facade of Rouen Cathedral from Monet’s 1892-94 series sell for $22m (£14.9m) in an Impressionist and Modern auction that raised $140m.

Both rooms saw a strong overall take-up with selling percentages in the 80s by lottage and the 90s by value for their evening events. Christie’s established a new high for Gustave Caillebotte when his Parisian scene of a man on a balcony reached $13m (£8.8m) and Sotheby’s set a new high for any sculpture when Matisse’s bronze figure La Serpentine went for $12.75m (£8.7m).

Their May 11 evening sale was led, as expected, by Kasimir Malevich’s Suprematist Composition. Painted c.1919-20 and offered by descent from the artist, it sold to a telephone bid of $15.5m (£10.5m).

When auctioneer Dan Klein, who handled the sale skilfully, brought the hammer down on the last of the 31 lots, he had raised a premium inclusive total of $43.9m but 12 pictures were bought in and only three of the sold lots managed to reach estimate.

Other results of note were Cézanne’s Environs de Gardanne at $4.6m (£3.1m), Picasso’s Nu Couché et Femme Se Lavant les Pieds at $4m (£2.7m) and Sisley’s Un Jardin à Louveciennes at $3.2m (£2.17m).

On a sweltering evening the sale started 45 minutes late with the Manhattan glamour auction crowd very restive after much shepherding by Phillips’ staff to fit them into what most thought an inadequate sale venue.

Phillips had gambled on this sale by guaranteeing all the lots, which did not shine in quality compared to those offered at upbeat Christie’s and Sotheby’s sales in the same week.

Speculation now is just what will Phillips’ owner M. Arnaud do with the 12 pictures he has left on his hands.