Picasso painting sells for $179 million, breaks world record

Picasso painting 'Les Femmes d'Alger' goes for $179 million, breaks world record for art sold at auction

A Pablo Picasso canvas brought in $179.4 million at a Christie's sale in New York on Monday evening, breaking the world record for the most expensive piece of art sold at auction. 

The painting, "Les Femmes d'Alger (Version O)," or "The Women from Algiers," dates from 1955 and depicts female courtesans striking provocative poses in the artist's signature Cubist style. Christie's didn't reveal the seller or buyer of the painting, except to say that it comes from a private European collection. 

The auction house had estimated that the work would sell for around $140 million. The selling price of $179.4 million includes the buyer's premium that auction houses typically add on.

The previous world-record holder was a Francis Bacon triptych painting of Lucian Freud that brought in $142.4 million at an auction in 2013. The buyer of that piece was later revealed to be Elaine Wynn.

At Monday's sale, another work of art shared the media spotlight -- a Giacometti sculpture, "L'homme au doigt (Pointing Man)," which sold for $141.3 million. The sum, which also includes the buyer's premium, represents an auction record for a sculpture. Christie's had estimated that the work would go for approximately $130 million.

The bronze piece, which stands 5 feet, 10 inches tall, was created in the spindly, emaciated style that is the artist's creative signature. It is one of six casts of the work, and Monday's sale marks the first time the bronze has been put up at auction, according to Christie's.

The auction house said that the seller of the work had acquired it in 1970, but didn't provide any additional information about the identities of the seller or buyer. 

Giacometti sculptures are highly coveted by the world's top collectors. Last year, billionaire hedge-fund manager Steve Cohen forked over $101 million for the Giacometti sculpture "Chariot" at a Sotheby's auction.

In all, Monday's auction, titled "Looking Forward to the Past," brought in a total of $705.9 million and featured 35 items. Another Picasso painting, "Buste de Femme (Femme a la Resille)," sold for $67.4 million, and a Monet canvas brought in $40.5 million.

The international art market has seen considerable growth in the last decade, fueled largely by the sales of postwar and contemporary art.  

Christie's and Sotheby's have jostled for big-ticket items, though both have experienced internal turmoil with the announced departures late last year of the top executives at both companies. 

Other top auction sales in recent years include an Edvard Munch "The Scream" canvas that brought in nearly $120 million at a Sotheby's sale in 2012, and a Picasso work from 1932 titled "Nude, Green, Leaves and Bust" that sold for $106.5 million at a Christie's auction in 2010.

The record set on Monday by the Picasso painting is only for art sold at auctions. Both auction houses conduct private sales of art that are believed to have exceeded the amount brought in by the Picasso. The details of those transactions aren't usually made public.

Twitter: @DavidNgLAT

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