To a medley of whoops, hollers and gasps on Monday night, Pablo Picasso’s 1955 painting “Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’)” sold for $179.4 million including fees at Christie’s “Looking Forward to the Past” sale of artworks spanning the 20th century. The price was the highest on record for a work of art sold at auction, the company said, and was well over its estimate of $140 million.
Picasso’s “Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’)” is the most opulent and imposing of a series of paintings that the Spanish-born artist produced from 1954 to 1955 in response to Eugène Delacroix’s 1834 Orientalist masterpiece, “Women of Algiers.” It had last been on the market in November 1997, when it sold for $31.9 million at a Christie’s auction of works owned by the American collectors, Victor and Sally Ganz. It was bought at that auction by a Saudi collector and kept in a house in London, said two dealers with knowledge of the matter, who declined to be named because of concerns over confidentiality. Monday night’s seller, who was not identified, had been guaranteed a minimum price by Christie’s, which estimated the work would fetch about $140 million.
The Swiss-born sculptor Giacometti is renowned for his hauntingly emaciated figures made in postwar Paris when Europe was in the grip of Existentialist angst. He became one of the art market’s ultimate trophy names in February 2010 after the billionaire Lily Safra paid 65 million pounds (then $103.4 million) for the 1961 bronze, “Walking Man I,” at a Sotheby’s auction in London.