Picasso fetches $41.5 million but Sotheby's total falls short

NEW YORK Thu Nov 8, 2012 11:53pm EST

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - A 1932 Picasso portrait of his mistress sold for $41.5 million on Thursday at Sotheby's, helping drive a $163 million total for its sale of Impressionist and modern art which nonetheless fell short of expectations.

The auction featured nine works by Picasso led by "Nature morte aux tulipes." Nearly one-third of the 67 lots on offer went unsold and the auction missed its $170 million low pre-sale estimate.

The two Picasso portraits of his iconic muse Marie-Therese Walter, "Nature morte" and "Femme a la Fenetre," managed their pre-sale estimates, the latter fetching $17.2 million including commission.

The sale demonstrated "that in this market there continues to be a search for quality," said Simon Shaw, Sotheby's head of Impressionist and modern art in New York.

Shaw added there was "active participation from today's truly global art market," but in a nod to the spotty results, conceded "there remains some scrutiny over estimates."

David Norman, Sotheby's co-chairman of Impressionist and modern art, also cited "increasing participation from South American, Asian and Russian bidders" that marked the sale.

The auction, coming a day after a tepid affair at rival Christie's which fell short of its $209 million low estimate, is likely to somewhat unsettle the art market to ahead of next week's sales of post-war and contemporary art, an arena that has seen sharply escalating prices over the past decade.

The results of both sales were remarkably similar, from the prices of their top lots and percentage of works sold to buyers' carefully controlled bidding.

While several works sold within their estimated range (estimates do not include commission of about 12 percent) and a few went significantly higher, there were noteworthy casualties including another Picasso, "Plant de tomate," estimated at $10 million to $15 million which could not draw a $9 million bid.

Strong prices were attained by Picasso's "Le Viol," a work on paper from the collection of Greek shipping magnate George Embiricos which soared to $13.5 million against an estimate of only $5 million, and Monet's "Champ de ble," being sold by the Cleveland Museum of art, which fetched $12.1 million or nearly double the estimate.

Another Picasso, "Femme a la robe verte," estimated at $6 million to $8 million, also went unsold.

The auctions continue next week when both Sotheby's and Christie's hold their sales of post-war and contemporary art. Latin American sales follow later in November.

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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