Picasso's Women of Algiers smashes auction record

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Media caption,

"It's yours, sold" - the moment Women of Algiers breaks record

Picasso's Women of Algiers has become the most expensive painting to sell at auction, going for $160m (£102.6m) at Christie's in New York.

Eleven minutes of prolonged bidding from telephone buyers preceded the final sale - for much more than its pre-sale estimate of $140m.

The final price of $179.3m (£115m) includes commission of just over 12%.

The sale also featured Alberto Giacometti's life-size sculpture Pointing Man, which set its own record.

It is now the most expensive sculpture sold at auction, after going for $141.3m (£90.6m). Both buyers chose to remain anonymous.

Image source, Reuters

The previous world record for a painting sold at auction was $142.4m, for British painter Francis Bacon's Three Studies of Lucian Freud in 2013.

The Picasso oil painting is a vibrant, cubist depiction of nude courtesans, and is part of a 15-work series the Spanish artist created in 1954-55 designated with the letters A to O.

"This is an absolutely blockbuster picture - it's one of the most exciting pictures that we've seen on the market for 10 years," said Philip Hoffman, founder and CEO of the Fine Art Fund Group.

"Yes there are one or two [Picassos] that could even smash that record but it has a huge wall presence, it's a big show-off picture.

"For anybody that wants to have a major Picasso, this is it - and $179m in 10 years' time will probably look inexpensive," said Hoffman.

Image source, European photopress agency
Image caption,
Man Pointing by Alberto Giacometti also set a record

Analysis: Arts Editor, Will Gompertz

Make no mistake; this is a fine painting, by a great artist, produced at an important time in his career.

He started the Women of Algiers series in 1954 shortly after the death of his friend and competitor, Henri Matisse, the master of what he called the Odalisque - exotic paintings of Turkish women in harems.

Now in his 70s, Picasso felt he should pick up the Orientalist mantel from Matisse while also looking to bring together many of the influences that informed his own art. You can see an echo of his famous proto-Cubist work Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907) and the debt it owes to Cezanne and El Greco. There was his lifelong admiration for the French romantic painter Eugene Delacroix who painted the original Women of Algiers (1834), and - of course - his adoration of the female form.

Added to this rich mix was the geo-politics of the time, which saw an uprising in the French colony of Algeria that would eventually lead to the country's independence.

In Women of Algiers version O, Picasso has distilled all of these ingredients into one large-scale painting of great quality: a study not only of the Arabesque, but also a serious enquiry into the nature of colour, line and composition.

Media caption,

How the record auction unfolded

$100M artworks

  • Picasso, Women of Algiers - $160m (2015)
  • Alberto Giacometti, Pointing Man - $141.3m (2015)
  • Francis Bacon, Three Studies of Lucian Freud - $142m (2013)
  • Edvard Munch, The Scream - $119.9m (2012)
  • Picasso, Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust - $106.5m (2010)
  • Alberto Giacometti, Walking Man I - $104.3m (2010)
  • Picasso, Boy With a Pipe - $104.1m (2004)

Experts believe the investment value of art is behind the high prices.

"I don't really see an end to it, unless interest rates drop sharply, which I don't see happening in the near future," said Manhattan dealer Richard Feigen.

"There's a huge amount of demand," added Hoffman, founder and CEO of the Fine Art Fund Group.

"The world's billionaires are in New York, the world's museum buyers are there.

"I don't think we've ever seen a sale as important as this in Christie's and Sotheby's in my 25 years of working in the art world."

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