Picasso Nude Beats Giacometti, Chinese Vase in 2010’s Top Sales

The value of the world’s most expensive items sold at auction more than doubled in 2010 as the top end of the market bounced back from the financial crisis.

The priciest 10 lots amounted to $698.6 million, compared with the combined $326.1 million of 2009, according to Bloomberg calculations.

Buyers around the globe snapped up works by trophy-name 20th-century artists, and historic Chinese art ousted European Old Masters as the other main contributor.

Sotheby’s and Christie’s International sold 1,201 lots for $1 million or more, including 75 lots that ranged from $10 million to $106.5 million.

Here are the year’s 10 most valuable artworks at auction.

1. Pablo Picasso’s 1932 painting of his mistress Marie-Therese Walter sold for $106.5 million, an auction record for any artwork, at Christie’s in New York on May 4. Consigned by the estate of Los Angeles philanthropist Frances Brody, “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust” went to an anonymous phone bidder.

2. Alberto Giacometti’s 1961 bronze “Walking Man I” fetched an artist record 65 million pounds (then $103.4 million) at Sotheby’s in London on Feb. 3. From the collection of Germany-based Dresdner Bank AG, the statue was one of 10 cast in the Swiss artist’s lifetime and was estimated to sell for between 12 million pounds and 18 million pounds. The buyer was the London-based billionaire Lily Safra, said dealers.

3. A Qianlong-dynasty vase sold for a surprise 51.6 million pounds (then $83.2 million) -- a record for Chinese art -- at Bainbridges in west London on Nov. 11. The elaborately decorated Imperial porcelain, valued at 800,000 pounds to 1.2 million pounds, had been discovered during a routine house clearance in the London suburb of Pinner. Auctioneer Peter Bainbridge broke his gavel as he sold the vase to a Beijing-based agent sitting at the front of the salesroom.

4. Amedeo Modigliani’s 1917 languid, pink-fleshed nude fetched $68.96 million at Sotheby’s in New York on Nov. 2, an auction record for the artist. Five bidders competed for “Nu Assis sur un Divan (La Belle Romaine),” propelling the work past the $40 million presale estimate.

5. A Song Dynasty scroll painting sold to a phone bidder for 436.8 million yuan ($65.9 million) at Beijing Poly International Auction Co. on June 3. The 38-foot-long collection of inscriptions, titled “Di Zhu Ming,” had been amassed over 800 years and was completed by the calligrapher Huang Tingjian in 1095.

6. Andy Warhol’s black-and-white silkscreen showing images of Elizabeth Taylor, her third husband Mike Todd and her future husband Eddie Fisher sold for $63.4 million at Phillips de Pury in New York on Nov. 8. This was the second-priciest Warhol sold at auction. The 1962 canvas “Men in Her Life” appeared in a sale put together by private art dealer Philippe Segalot.

7. Following the success of his “Walking Man,” Giacometti’s flattened bronze head, said to be of his brother Diego, fetched $53.3 million at Christie’s on May 4, more than doubling its low estimate of $25 million. Brody, whose estate consigned the work, bought it for $1,800 in 1955.

8. A modernist limestone head by Modigliani sold at an auction in Paris for 43.2 million euros (then $53 million) on June 14. The price, paid by a phone buyer, was more than 10 times the low estimate and a record for any work of art sold at a French auction.

9. Picasso’s 1903 portrait of the artist Angel de Soto raised 34.8 million pounds ($52 million) for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s charitable foundation at Christie’s London on June 23. The “Blue Period” canvas, bought by a phone bidder, had been estimated to sell for as much as 40 million pounds. It had been acquired by the composer’s foundation for $29.2 million in 1995.

10. Henri Matisse’s bronze relief of a nude woman depicted from the back drew $48.8 million, establishing an auction record for the French master at Christie’s on Nov. 3. Cast in 1978, 24 years after the artist’s death, the piece came from an edition of 10. Dealer Larry Gagosian bought the work for a client.