NEW YORK (AFP).- An erotically charged Picasso oil painting of his mistress alongside tulips and fruit sold Thursday for $41.5 million on an otherwise anemic night for high-end art in New York.
"Nature morte aux tulipes," painted in 1932, was the star of Sotheby's Impressionist and modern art sale in Manhattan. The pre-sale estimate for the work had been between $35 million and $50 million.
The painting depicts the head of Marie-Therese Walter, who was Picasso's lover and famous muse, poised over a suggestive flower arrangement.
Its sale was one of the few bright spots for Sotheby's, with 30 percent of lots failing to sell and the total haul of the evening amounting to $163 million -- below the low end of the overall $169-245 million estimate. This followed a similar performance at the Christie's auction on Wednesday.
Another of the Marie-Therese series offered by Sotheby's, "Femme a la fenetre (Marie-Therese)," sold for $17.2 million, inside the $15-20 million estimate.
Other successes included the $12.1 million paid for "Champ de ble" by Claude Monet, well above the $5-7 million estimate.
Paul Cezanne's "Femme nue debout" went for $5.3 million, inside the estimate, and Henry Moore's sculpture "Two piece reclining figure No. 1" sold for $4.7 million, at the high end of its estimate.
However, numerous works failed to find buyers, including Picasso's "Plant de tomate," estimated to sell for $10-15 million, and the same artist's "Femme a la robe verte," which was listed at $6-8 million. Cezanne's "La femme a l'hermine," which had been hoped to fetch between $5 million and $7 million, also flopped.
On Wednesday, Christie's in New York sold a Monet water lily painting for $43.8 million and saw a painting by Wassily Kandinsky sell for an auction record of $23 million. However, the auction overall was seen as relatively muted, with a third of works not selling.
Next week, the rival auction houses hold their contemporary art sales.
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