Picasso fetches $41.5 million but Sotheby's total falls short

Thu Nov 8, 2012 11:53pm EST
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By Chris Michaud

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A 1932 Picasso portrait of his mistress sold for $41.5 million on Thursday at Sotheby's, helping drive a $163 million total for its sale of Impressionist and modern art which nonetheless fell short of expectations.

The auction featured nine works by Picasso led by "Nature morte aux tulipes." Nearly one-third of the 67 lots on offer went unsold and the auction missed its $170 million low pre-sale estimate.

The two Picasso portraits of his iconic muse Marie-Therese Walter, "Nature morte" and "Femme a la Fenetre," managed their pre-sale estimates, the latter fetching $17.2 million including commission.

The sale demonstrated "that in this market there continues to be a search for quality," said Simon Shaw, Sotheby's head of Impressionist and modern art in New York.

Shaw added there was "active participation from today's truly global art market," but in a nod to the spotty results, conceded "there remains some scrutiny over estimates."

David Norman, Sotheby's co-chairman of Impressionist and modern art, also cited "increasing participation from South American, Asian and Russian bidders" that marked the sale.

The auction, coming a day after a tepid affair at rival Christie's which fell short of its $209 million low estimate, is likely to somewhat unsettle the art market to ahead of next week's sales of post-war and contemporary art, an arena that has seen sharply escalating prices over the past decade.

The results of both sales were remarkably similar, from the prices of their top lots and percentage of works sold to buyers' carefully controlled bidding.   Continued...