Bouguereau's "Pieta" tops Old Masters sale

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A French painting inspired by Michelangelo’s “Pieta” topped Christie’s mid-season Old Masters and 19th century art auction, selling for $2.77 million.

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Spanning seven centuries of European painting, the sale fetched $11.75 million, nearly double the $6.5 million sold a year earlier. It slightly exceeded the low pre-sale estimate.

Georgina Wilsenach, who headed the sale, said its total was much more than last year, primarily because was a larger sale, with higher-priced works, rather than because of the improving economy.

“Well-recognized artists were the most appealing to the bidders instead of lesser known painters,” she said. “People wanted iconic works that were representative of a particular artist.”

Frenchman William Adolphe Bouguereau’s 1876 “Pieta” portrays a red-rimmed eyed Madonna, cradling Christ, as eight angels express grief with separate gestures. Painted after the death of artist’s 16 year-old son, it shows the deceased Jesus, reclined in the Virgin Mary’s lap.

Jesus’ bright blue veins contrast with the white pallor of his lifeless limbs. His feet dangle above a blood-soaked cloth, alongside a crown of thorns.

Pieter Brueghel II’s “Autumn: An Allegory of one of the Four Seasons” was the second top seller fetching $866,500. Another Brueghel painting, “The Blind Hurdy-Gurdy Player” sold for $578,500.

Lucas Carlevarijs’ early 18th “The Church of San Giorgio and the Grand Canal, Venice,” sold for $602,500.

From the studio of El Greco, a painting called “The Agony in the Garden” fetched $386,500. It depicts Christ at the Mount of Olives on the last night of his life, clad in a strawberry red robe. In the distance soldiers approach to arrest him.

The Old Masters mid-season auction in New York traditionally features items under $1 million.

Christie’s main Old Masters sales, which are in January, fetched $38.5 million in 2010, which was double the amount from the previous year.

Reporting by Walker Simon