Christie's sale of Impressionists, moderns solid

Wed May 6, 2009 10:53pm EDT
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By Christopher Michaud

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Impressionist and modern art sold well at Christie's on Wednesday at an auction that met expectations and provided a measure of relief to a tense art market battered by the global financial crisis.

That relief was palpable when applause broke out in Christie's salesroom after the hammer fell on the final lot of the sale, which took in nearly $103 million, safely above the low pre-sale estimate of $88 million.

Officials at both Christie's and rival Sotheby's have said convincing collectors to sell when art prices are falling was especially difficult, resulting in the season's vastly scaled-down auctions.

But Christie's did what it set out to do, selling 80 percent of the 48 lots on offer, including Picasso's "Musketeer with pipe," a 1968 oil on canvas that fetched $14,642,500, or right in the middle of its pre-sale estimate range.

Officials said the work had sold for $7.3 million in 2004, a sign that prices are holding up when the right work is offered.

"It was a remarkable result for this material at this time," said Christie's honorary chairman Christopher Burge, who also served as auctioneer.

"We were honestly quite surprised by the depth of the competition," Burge added, citing strong prices for Impressionist as well as 20th-century works at all price levels.

Works by Monet, Renoir and Pissarro sold well at Sotheby's on Tuesday, but the top lots, a Picasso and a Giacometti, went unsold leaving the total well short of its estimate.   Continued...