NEW YORK (Reuters) - The spring art auctions got off to a solid start on Tuesday as Christie's sold $286 million worth of Impressionist and modern art, its best New York result in the category in four years.
Led by Monet's "Nymphéas," one of the artist's seminal water lilies paintings which sold for $27 million, the auction saw 89 percent of the 53 works on offer finding buyers and beat its low estimate total of about $245 million.
While works at all levels sold well, bidding was measured and the salesroom atmosphere somewhat muted, with most of the top lots selling for below the pre-sale estimates.
Like the Monet, Picasso's "Portrait de femme (Dora Maar)," the evening's second-highest priced work, fell short of expectations, fetching $22,565,000 including commission.
Christie's had estimated both works to sell for $25 million to $35 million. Estimates do not include commission of just over 12 percent.
A noteworthy exception was Modigliani's "Jeune homme roux assis," which fetched $17,637,000 after determined bidding drove the portrait to half again the $8 million to $12 million estimate.
Christie's officials said the price illustrated that attractive, or conservative, estimates can often be expected to drive a bidding war.
"Tonight was clearly a testament to the incredible breadth in our marketplace," said Brooke Lampley, head of Impressionist and modern art at Christie's.
Lampley added the sale was marked by "bids from every part of the world," with collectors from 36 countries having registered.
Asian buyers nabbed at least two of the sale's top 10 lots, including "Nymphéas," in a category that was once the near-exclusive purview of U.S. and European collectors.
Lampley said growing interest from Asians reflected "a growth in the Asian (art) market generally," as well as the auction house's relatively new presence in mainland China.
Other work commanding top prices included Wassily Kandinsky's "Strandszene," which carried a $16 million to $22 million estimate and sold for $17.2 million, and Picasso's "Deux femmes et enfant," which fetched just over $13 million on an estimate of $12 million to $16 million.
The sales continue on Wednesday at Sotheby's, where Impressionist and modern art offerings include Henri Matisse's "La Séance du matin" ($20 million-$30 million) and Picasso's "Tête de Marie-Thérèse," are estimated at $15 million-$20 million.
Both houses hold their sales focusing on the red-hot contemporary art market next week.
Editing by Ron Popeski