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LONDON (Reuters) - Auctioneers Christie's staked out its share of a buoyant art market on Wednesday with a barrage of surrealist works, a day after fierce rival Sotheby's set a London auction sale record.
Sotheby's brought in $280.2 million from its Impressionist and Modern paintings sale, led by a brace of museum class Claude Monet landscapes, showing the world's rich still eager to collect despite an oil price collapse and talk of chillier times ahead.
A few blocks away, Christie's ended its sale with a collection of surrealist works that contributed almost half of the evening's total of $222.8 million, which included its own Impressionist and modern art haul.
Its art experts said more Asian buyers were being tempted away from the soothing Impressionists to the works of surrealists, which express the mood of unreality, unease and the irrational in Europe between the two world wars.
Chinese buyers were becoming intrigued by surrealism, said Christie's deputy chairman Impressionist and modern in London, Olivier Camu. "It's simmering," he told reporters after the sale.
The top price of the night was $23.5 million for Spanish surrealist Juan Miro's "Painting (Woman, Moon, Birds)" of 1950.
The headline work from the Impressionist sale, a Cezanne landscape, realised the second highest price, $20.5 million.
"Vue sur L'Estaque et le Chateau d'If" - a Mediterranean view of sea, sky and red rooftops said by Cezanne to be stacked up like the design on a playing card - was one of his works that paved the way for the cubism of Picasso.
It was one of only two works by the artist that British industrialist Samuel Courtauld kept for himself after he donated his collection to form the London museum and art institute that bears his name.
Christie's, founded in 1766 and now owned by French retail magnate Francois Pinault's holding company Artemis SA, had global auction and private sales in 2014 that totaled $8.4 billion, its highest ever.
($1 = 0.6569 pounds)
Reporting by William Hardy