More than $1 billion worth of art will come under the hammer in New York’s autumn art auctions, which start later.
Highlights of the four nights of sales include works by Picasso, Monet, Rothko and Andy Warhol.
Officials from the auction houses Sotheby’s and Christie’s have described the current art market as “exuberant”.
Earlier this year Edvard Munch’s The Scream set a new auction record for art when it sold for $120 million.
Experts have said there is little chance of that record being surpassed but expect Claude Monet’s Nympheas and Mark Rothko’s No1 (Royal Red and Blue) to be sold for about $50 million.
Brooke Lampley, Christie’s head of Impressionist and Modern Art, ascribed the inflationary bubble in the art world to growing demand.
“Participation in our major sales is more global than ever, with buyers from growing markets in South America, Asia and the Middle East,” she said.
The company’s Americas chairman, Marc Porter, said the high quality of lots at Christie’s Post-Impressionist and Contemporary auctions was in part due to what he called “discretionary sellers” – collectors who decide to realize their assets.
Analysts have said rising prices for the rarest works have encouraged owners to offer prized possessions for sale.
With new buyers from China, Russia and Qatar willing to pay what it takes to secure iconic works, the prices at auction have risen sharply.
But some experts have warned the disparity between art values and the broader economy cannot continue and that while the most coveted works are rising in value, other sectors of the art market are less buoyant.
The four nights of sales at Sotheby’s and Christie’s get under way later with Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Sale. Its highlight is expected to be Monet’s Nympheas.
On Thursday Sotheby’s will belatedly stage its own Impressionist auction. The sale has been delayed for three days because of the damage caused to New York and its infrastructure by Hurricane Sandy.
Among the 68 lots there is much interest in Pablo Picasso’s Still Life with Tulips, painted in 1932 in under three hours.
This disguised portrait of his mistress, Marie Therese Walter, fetched $28.6 million when it was last sold in 2000. Its estimate this time round is between $35 million and $50 million.
Next week the two auction houses stage their contemporary sales, where works include Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled 1981. Its sale could set a new record for the painter.
Basquiat rose from being an obscure graffiti artist in New York to become one of the city’s most lionized artists before his death of a heroin overdose in 1988.
Most expensive works sold at auction
• The Scream by Edvard Munch – $120 million , May 2012
• Nude, Green Leaves and Bust by Pablo Picasso – $106 million, April 2010
• L’Homme qui Marche by Alberto Giacometti – $104 million, January 2010
• Boy with a Pipe by Pablo Picasso – $104 m, May 2004
• Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II by Gustav Klimt – $88 million, November 2006