Records fall at N.Y. art auction, foreigners dominate

Wed May 7, 2008 5:25pm EDT
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By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Art records fell on Tuesday for works by Claude Monet, Auguste Rodin and Alberto Giacometti in New York City at a Christie's auction dominated by foreign buyers taking advantage of the weak U.S. dollar.

The auction house reaped more than $277.2 million at the Impressionist and Modern Art sale where 44 of the 58 lots were sold -- 32 percent to U.S. buyers, 52 percent to European buyers, and the rest to other parts of the world.

Christie's fell short of its low pre-sale estimate of $286 million, but Christie's auctioneer Christopher Burge said that was based on the sale of all 58 lots and that the auction house had still achieved it's third-strongest New York sale.

"Generally speaking for the very best things the market was still red hot and top prices were more than we expected," Burge told a news conference following the packed evening sale that saw fewer works offered than last year. "Obviously the (U.S.) dollar plays some part."

Monet's 1873 "Le Pont du chemin de fer a Argenteuil," described by Christie's as "one of the greatest Impressionist pictures left in private hands," sold for $41.48 million beating the previous record for the artist's work of $36.56 million.

While the painting of trains crossing a bridge across a river as boats sail underneath was sold to an anonymous phone bidder, two other Monet works were among 14 lots not sold.

A bronze sculpture by Rodin, "Eve, grand modele-version sans rocher," sold for nearly $19 million, smashing the previous record of $9.1 million, and a Giacometti bronze sculpture sold for $27.4 million to Gagosian Gallery, well over the previous record of $18.5 million.

Another sale highlight was Henri Matisse's 1935 "Portrait au manteau bleu," which was sold for the first time at auction for $22.4 million.   Continued...