Half of the auction’s top 10 works sold to buyers in Asia, but a Russian private collector’s premium-inclusive $28.5m (£21.6m) purchase of Masterpiece of Love (Les Amoureux) was the top lot of the night and brought the saleroom to life.
Estimated at $12-18m, the winning bid smashed the long-held auction record Chagall.
However, an Asian buyer did take the second Chagall of the evening. Le Grand Cirque sold for a premium-inclusive $16m, which also beat the 1990 auction record for the artist.
Although the overall auction could be described as somewhat subdued, the $269.6m (£205.8m) premium-inclusive total was 71% ahead of the previous year’s sale and 92.2% of the 64 lots found buyers.
Simon Shaw, co-head of Sotheby’s worldwide Impressionist and Modern art department, said: “While Russia took home tonight's top prize, Asia was clearly a major story – we had seven different buyers spanning China, Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong, and many more under-bidders.”
Chagall’s Masterpiece of Love had remained in the same family collection for nearly 90 years, having been acquired in 1928 – the same year it was painted. Its freshness to auction explains part of the reason for the price paid last night.
With the sale of Le Grand Cirque, measuring 10ft (3.05m) across, and Les Amoureux, Sotheby’s said it now holds the top three auction prices for Chagall. Chagall’s previous auction record was set in 1990, when Sotheby’s sold Anniversaire in New York for $14.9m.
Other artists featuring in the Sotheby’s evening sale included Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso. A number of auction records were set on the night, such as Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershøi.
Against an estimate of $2.5m-3.5m, Interior with Woman at Piano, climbed to a premium-inclusive $6.2m. This Hammershøi painting was last sold at auction in October 1993 for $101,500.
The New York evening sales kicked off with Christie’s November 13 auction where it took its second-highest total ever for an Impressionist and Modern art auction of a premium-inclusive total of $479.3m (£366.2m), above the pre-sale estimate of $360m.
The next highlight is tonight’s Post-War and Contemporary art evening sale at Christie’s which includes the $100m Leonardo da Vinci Salvator Mundi.