Pablo Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger (Women of Algiers) has become the most expensive painting to sell at auction after fetching $160 million at Christie’s in New York on May 11.
Eleven minutes of prolonged bidding from telephone buyers preceded the final sale – for much more than its pre-sale estimate of $140 million.
Once the bidding reached $120 million, the Picasso was pursued by five clients on telephones, often in agonizingly slow, $1 million increments, before finally being sold to a buyer represented by Brett Gorvy, Christie’s international head of contemporary art.
The final price was $179.3 million including commission of just over 12%.
The previous all-time auction high, also at Christie’s, had been the $142.4 million paid by Elaine Wynn, co-founder of the Wynn casino empire, for Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucian Freud in November 2013.
Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’) is the most opulent and imposing of a series of paintings that Pablo Picasso produced from 1954 to 1955 in response to Eugène Delacroix’s 1834 Orientalist masterpiece, Women of Algiers. It had last been on the market in November 1997, when it sold for $31.9 million at a Christie’s auction of works owned by the American collectors, Victor and Sally Ganz. It was bought at that auction by a Saudi collector and kept in a house in London, said two dealers with knowledge of the matter, who declined to be named because of concerns over confidentiality.
The sale also featured Alberto Giacometti’s life-size sculpture Pointing Man, which set its own record.
The Swiss-born sculptor is renowned for his hauntingly emaciated figures made in postwar Paris when Europe was in the grip of Existentialist angst. He became one of the art market’s ultimate trophy names in February 2010 after the billionaire Lily Safra paid $103.4 million for the 1961 bronze, Walking Man I, at a Sotheby’s auction in London.
Pointing Man is now the most expensive sculpture sold at auction, after going for $141.3 million. Both buyers chose to remain anonymous.