Picasso Nude Fetches Record $106.5 Million in N.Y. as Dow Drops

A woman looks at "Nude, Green Leaves and Bust," a painting by Pablo Picasso, during a preview at Christie's International Ltd. in New York on April 30, 2010. The work sold for a record $106.5 million during an auction at Christie's in New York. Photographer: Ramin Talaie/Bloomberg

Pablo Picasso’s 1932 lilac-hued oil painting of his young mistress, Marie-Therese Walter, sold for a record $106.5 million in New York last night, hours after the U.S. stock market had its biggest drop since February.

“Nude, Green Leaves and Bust,” featuring the artist’s profile hovering over a reclining Walter and against a blue backdrop with philodendron leaves, is the most paid for an artwork at auction. It went to an unidentified phone buyer who beat seven rivals after a nine-minute bidding war. The price exceeds host Christie’s International’s own presale estimate of between $70 million to $90 million for the painting.

“Masterpieces are recession proof,” said New York dealer Guy Bennett, in an interview.

Picasso’s paintings of Walter are some of his most-coveted because of their size and expressiveness, among other qualities.

Other works from the same series belong to the Museum of Modern Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, casino mogul Steve Wynn and SAC Capital Advisors LP founder Steven A. Cohen. The record price for this painting is a positive start to the city’s spring art auctions over the next two weeks that may fetch a combined $1.2 billion.

“For some guy who wants Picasso, this is it,” New York dealer Richard Feigen said as he left the Rockefeller Center saleroom.

Previous Records

The five-foot tall painting exceeded the previous record for artwork at auction: $104.2 million set at Sotheby’s in New York in 2004, for a 1905 Picasso painting, “Garcon a la Pipe.” And it beat the 65 million pounds, or $103.4 million, for Giacometti’s “Walking Man I” set in February in London.

“There’s a lot of money going around,” said Feigen. “It doesn’t want to sit in currencies so it goes into art.”

Yesterday, the euro dropped below $1.30 for the first time in a year, amid concern government debt may be growing. Responding to a question on the effect of the Dow’s decline on yesterday’s sale, Christie’s auctioneer Christopher Burge said, “We saw absolutely no effect, whatsoever.”

It remains to be seen how buyers will respond to other auctions in the coming days. Sotheby’s holds its Impressionist and modern-art auction tonight, hoping to raise as much as $208.8 million. Contemporary sales are next week.

Philanthropist Brody

“Nude, Green Leaves and Bust” came from the estate of Los Angeles philanthropist Frances Brody, who died last year at the age of 93. She bought it in 1950 for $17,000 at New York’s Paul Rosenberg and Co., according to Conor Jordan, head of Christie’s Impressionist and modern art department in New York.

Christie’s auction yesterday tallied $335.5 million, the company’s biggest sale since November 2007. The 69 lots on offer had been estimated to fetch $262.8 million to $368.3 million.

Earlier in the sale the buyer who bought the Picasso also paid an auction record, $10.2 million, for another Brody trophy: George Braque’s 1953-54 “La Treille.” The oil and sand on canvas had a $3 million to $5 million presale estimate.

All 27 lots from the Brody estate found buyers, totaling $224.2 million. A portion of the proceeds go to the non-profit Huntington of San Marino, California, which has a library, art collection and botanical gardens.

As part of the Brody estate, a bronze 1954-1955 Alberto Giacometti bust fetched $53.3 million, above the $25 million to $35 million estimate. The Brodys bought it in 1955 for $1,800 from dealer Pierre Matisse, according to Christie’s. Bennett bought the work for a collector he declined to name.

From an edition of six, another version sold for $13.8 million at Sotheby’s in 2002, before the recent spike in Giacometti prices.

‘Really Good Picture’

“There are so many people wanting to buy pictures,” said private dealer Nicholas Maclean, who also vied unsuccessfully for the Picasso. “If it’s a really good picture, you can still ask 2007 prices.”

The sale deflated after the Brody material, as collectors and dealers headed for the door and dinner, grousing that the auction was too long, weighed down with insignificant items.

The top flop was Edvard Munch’s “Fertility,” an autobiographical painting of a pregnant woman carrying a basket of cherries and a seated man. Estimated to sell for up to $35 million, it drew no suitors.

The sale also reflected the vogue for late Picassos. There were three paintings from the 1960s, all among the sale’s 10 most expensive lots. The priciest -- Picasso’s “Femme au chat assise dans un fauteuil,” of 1964 -- sold for $18 million, more than the $10 million low estimate. According to Christie’s, the buyer was Greek millionaire Dimitri Mavrommatis.

Christie’s charges buyers 25 percent of the hammer price up to 50,000, plus 20 percent from $50,000 to $1 million, plus 12 percent above $1 million.

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