Pablo Picasso 1955 painting “Women of Algiers (Version O),” sold for $179.4 million on Tuesday at an auction at Christie’s in New York. The $160 million (plus 12%/$19.4 million buyers fee) is the largest amount ever paid for a work of art at an auction.
The $179.4 million price tag even tops the $142.4 million paid in 2013 for Francis Bacon’s triptych, “Three Studies of Lucian Freud.” Both the buyer and the seller prefer to remain anonymous.
More on the record-setting auction of Picasso’s “Women of Algiers”
The bidding for the Picasso masterpiece began at $100 million, but the affair was competitive from the get-go, with four telephone bidders alternating higher bids for the jewel-tone scene of Cubist-style women lounging at odd angles in a garishly colored room. When the price hit $145 million, the bidding war came down to just two players. A full 11 minutes after the auction began, the gavel finally dropped on an anonymous bid of $160 million.
Experts say this Picasso was considered a must-have piece for its ownership pedigree as well as its outstanding historical and artistic merits. The painting was last sold 18 years ago when the estate of U.S. collectors Victor and Sally Ganz auctioned it to a London dealer for $31.9 million.
Art historians highlight that the painting is a vibrant, cubist depiction of stylized nude courtesans. It is part of the 15-work series Picasso produced in a creative burst in 1954-55 that he named with the letters A through O.
Statement from Philip Hoffman
“This is an absolutely blockbuster picture – it’s one of the most exciting pictures that we’ve seen on the market for 10 years,” Philip Hoffman, founder and CEO of the London-based Fine Art Fund Group, noted, commenting on the record-setting sale on Tuesday.
“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,” Hoffman continued.