Les Flamants that set a major record for Henri Rousseau when it sold for $37.5m (£29.8m) at Christie’s.

Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

With a large number of lots guaranteed, some high sums were recorded even if bidding felt a bit muted at times.

Among the lots that did manage to bring notable action at Christie’s 20th century evening sale on May 11 was a large jungle scene titled Les Flamants that set a major record for Henri Rousseau (1844-1910).

The top lot of the night, the 3ft 9in 5ft 3in (1.14 x 1.62m) oil on canvas dated from the last year of the artist’s life and was one of the most ambitious of the 30 or so stylised compositions of lush, tropical landscapes he produced from 1891 onwards.

Coming fresh to market, it had been purchased in 1949 by American collectors Charles S and Joan Whitney Payson who assembled a vast collection of Impressionist and Post- Impressionist works including pictures by artists such as Manet, Monet, Renoir, van Gogh and Cézanne.

It was consigned to Christie’s from the estate of their daughter and given a $20m-30m estimate, as well as a guarantee. Attracting multiple bidders, it came down to a battle between a bidder in the room and another on the phone with the latter eventually winning at $37.5m (£29.8m).

The price ($43.5m with premium) was over 10 times the previous record for Rousseau which, remarkably, had stood for three decades: the £2.7m for a portrait de Joseph Brummer that sold at Christie’s in London back in 1993.

Just over half of the lots in 54-lot sale were guaranteed and, overall, 44 lots sold (81%) for a $328.8m (£260.9m) total. A further $177.8m (£141.1m) was posted by the 16 lots from the collection of media mogul and SI Newhouse (1927-2017) which were sold by Christie’s in a dedicated auction on the same evening.

The Newhouse collection, which had previously provided the auction house with an $80m (£62.02m) rabbit sculpture by Jeff Koons and a $52m (£40.3m) Paul Cézanne still-life in 2019, was led here by a Francis Bacon (1909-92) self-portrait that surpassed a $22m-28m estimate and was knocked down at $29.7m (£23.6m) to a phone buyer.

Christie’s sales of 21st century art will take place this week, while rivals Sotheby’s is also holding both its Modern and Contemporary sales this week which will include a Gustav Klimt view of the Austria’s Lake Attersee estimated ‘in the region of $45m’.

£1 = $1.26

Christie’s new buyer’s premium

26% Up to £800,000/$1m (previously up to £700,000)

21% £800,001 to £4.5m/$1m to $6m (previously 20% £700,000 to £4.5m)

15% £4.5m and above/$6m and above (previously 14.5%)