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Picasso work goes for $179 million, beating records and expectations

Employees of Christie's auction house hold up Spanish painter Pablo Picasso's 'Les femmes dAlger (Version O)' during a press preview in London on April 10, 2015. Photograph by Justin Tallis — AFP/Getty Images

A painting by Pablo Picasso became the most valuable piece of art ever to be sold at auction Monday, fetching over $179.4 million in a sale at auction-house Christie’s.

Picasso’s ‘Les Femmes d’Alger, Version O’ sold for nearly $40 million more than the $140 million expected, ultimately going to an unidentified buyer after a battle among several telephone bidders. That smashed the previous record of $142.4 million paid for Francis Bacon’s triptych “Three Studies of Lucien Freud”, which had stood since November 2013.

The Picasso sale was the brightest highlight of Christie’s “Looking Forward to the Past” sale, which featured works spanning over 100 years of the Modernist style. In all, the evening realized $706 million, a landmark in what the auction-house called a ‘new era’ for an art market, in which a growing circle of super-rich private investors chase inevitably scarce masterpieces.

‘L’homme au doigt’ (Pointing Man), a 1947 sculture by Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti, fetched $141.3 million–also from an anonymous buyer–the most ever paid for a work of sculpture.

Three other works sold for over $50 million, nine sold for over $20 million and 12 for over $10 million, as the auction realized a total of $705.9 million–well above the top end of pre-sale estimates. The lots included a sunset view of the Houses of Parliament by the impressionist Claude Monet and a Mark Rothko work, ‘No. 36 (Black Stripe)’, both of which went for over $40 million.

“We have entered a new era of the art market where collectors from all parts of the world compete for the very best across categories, generating record prices at levels we have never seen before,” Christie’s global president Jussi Pylkkänen said in a statement.

Over 15,000 people had viewed the pre-sale exhibition at the Rockefeller Center in the 10 days leading up to the auction.

Attention in the art world will now switch to Sotheby’s (BID) auction of contemporary art this evening in New York. Among the lots expected to fetch the highest prices are ‘The Ring (Engagement)’ by pop artist Roy Liechtenstein, a portrait of Chinese leader Mao Zedong by Andy Warhol and abstract works by Jackson Pollock and Gerhard Richter.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story mis-spelled Gerhard Richter’s name.