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Picasso’s $90 Million Nude Leads Lots in Spring Sales

"Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust'' by Pablo Picasso. The 1932 painting of the artist's mistress Marie-Therese Walter, comes from the estate of Los Angeles philanthropist Frances Brody and sold for a record $106.5 million, at Christie's on May 4. Source: Christie's via Bloomberg

There are signs of renewed confidence in the art market, to judge from the girth of the latest round of auction catalogs.

The two weeks of spring sales by Christie’s International, Sotheby’s and Phillips de Pury combine for an estimated tally of as much as $1.2 billion.

Sellers opting to cash out include Michael Ovitz, fashion designer Tom Ford and Seattle real-estate developer Richard Hedreen.

The auction series starts tomorrow night at Christie’s, which could dominate the season because of two art-stocked estates.

The late best-selling author Michael Crichton has a collection estimated at $74.3 million, while paintings and sculptures owned by the late Los Angeles collector Frances Brody -- including a knockout Picasso expected to fetch $90 million -- are estimated at as much as $194 million.

Phillips de Pury, the Chelsea-based purveyor of contemporary art and design, will sell a portion of CNET Networks Inc. founder Halsey Minor’s collection. Proceeds, projected to tally as much as $29.7 million, will go toward a $21.6 million judgment obtained by ML Private Finance, a Bank of America affiliate, on a delinquent loan to Minor.

This week features Impressionist and modern works, while contemporary art comes next week. Here are six of the priciest:

Picasso Nude

1) Brody’s Picasso, “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust,” puts the artist’s busty mistress in a sensuous 1932 blue and lilac canvas more than five feet tall. The estimate is so hefty, the catalog labels it “on request.”

Christie’s tagged the painting at $70 million to $90 million, partly pegged to the $139 million casino mogul Steve Wynn slapped on his own 1932 Picasso, “Le Reve.” SAC Capital founder Steven A. Cohen agreed to buy it before Wynn infamously jabbed his elbow through the canvas. The deal was shelved.

Christie’s is assured of $70 million because it has an anonymous third-guarantor who has contractually agreed to bid at least that amount for the work. If the painting sells for more than $104.3 million -- and it could -- it will become the priciest artwork ever sold at auction.

Giacometti ‘Tete’

2) Alberto Giacometti’s mottled bronze bust “Grande tete mince,” possibly a self-portrait, also comes from the Brody estate. Acquired for $3,000 in 1955 at the Pierre Matisse gallery in New York, the piece is from an edition of six works. Giacometti has been on a roll at auction. In February, “Walking Man I” sold to Lily Safra, wife of the late Lebanese banker Edmond Safra, for $104.3 million at Sotheby’s in London, a record for an artwork at auction.

Estimated by Christie’s to sell for $25 million to $35 million, the work also has a third-party guarantor who has agreed to bid at least $25 million. Another example from the same edition sold at Sotheby’s for $13.75 million in 2002, before the recent jump in Giacometti prices.

Munch Mommy

3) Norwegian painter Edvard Munch painted “Fertility,” a pastoral green canvas, in 1899-1900 while in the throes of a hot romance. It depicts a pregnant woman toting a basket brimming with cherries. A faceless young man -- perhaps Munch himself -- is seated nearby.

Estimated to sell for as much as $35 million, the painting comes from an anonymous Norwegian collector. Wall Street raider Asher Edelman, who has recently gone into the art-financing business, brokered the deal with Christie’s.

Red Rothko

4) Sotheby’s is selling a 1961 tomato-red painting by Mark Rothko, “Untitled,” with a high estimate of $25 million, just as a play about the morose genius called “Red” runs on Broadway.

The play is about Rothko’s prototypes of the murals for the Four Seasons restaurant in Manhattan.

At a high estimate of $25 million, the red Rothko is priced to sell. A red-and-yellow 1952 Rothko fetched $50.4 million at Christie’s in the heady days of May 2008.

Bewigged Warhol

5) Fashion designer Tom Ford is selling Andy Warhol’s “Self Portrait,” a haunting purple depiction of the gaunt artist in a spiky wig. Sotheby’s has given it a high estimate of $15 million.

Ford bought the 9-foot-square painting in 1998. Last fall Sotheby’s sold Warhol’s 1962 “200 One Dollar Bills,” estimated to sell for as much as $12 million, for $43.8 million.

Christie’s has another Warhol, the sleek 1963 double panel “Silver Liz” of actress Elizabeth Taylor, also estimated at a high of $15 million. Dealers identified Washington collector Melvyn Estrin as the anonymous seller.

Johns’s ‘Flag’

6) The plum of the Crichton sale is one of Jasper Johns’s American flag renditions, “Flag” (1960-66), a collage in wax encaustic and newspaper and an icon of Pop art. Estimated to sell for as much as $15 million, its rarity and wall power will likely drive the price much higher.

Sotheby’s has yet another work in the $10 million to $15 million bracket -- the estimate of choice for A-level contemporary works this season -- Brice Marden’s meditative, meandering “Cold Mountain I (Path),” a work inspired by Chinese painting.

The seller is Hedreen, who also is selling, according to dealers, a 1966 nine-panel Warhol at Christie’s. The pastel portraits of the late dealer Holly Solomon are tagged to fetch as much as $12 million.

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