NEW YORK, Nov. 8 -- The art market has emerged from a five-year blue period with a $108 million auction including three multimillion dollar paintings by Pablo Picasso, one of which sold for an unexpected $20 million. The sale of 65 paintings and sculptures at Christie's gallery Tuesday opened a two-week series of sales of impressionist and modern art at Christie's and its rival, Sotheby's. Since many works at Christie's fetched prices above presale evaluations, the grand total for the sales may exceed the estimated $350 million. An unidentified bidder paid $20 million -- $5 million above the presale estimate -- for 'The Mirror,' Picasso's 1932 study of his mistress, Marie-Therese Walter, asleep and nude in front of a mirror. Bidding for the large erotic abstract oil was spirited. The painting was consigned by Japanese collector Shigeki Kameyama, who paid $26.4 million for it at auction in 1989, the peak of the art boom which petered out the following year with the onset of an international recession. Kameyama cut his losses by waiting for the market to revive. It was the second highest price paid for a Picasso since 1990. The highest was $29.2 million for 'Portrait of Fernandes de Soto,' sold at Sotheby's last spring. Another Picasso, his last rose period portrait, 'Boy with White Collar,' which carried a presale estimate of $10 million, was sold at Christie's to an anonymous bidder for $12.1 million. A third Picasso oil, a 1911 cubist still life, 'The Independent (Still Life with a Fan),' sold to an unidentified American dealer for $7 million, right on estimate.
Another top lot was Amedeo Modigliani's masterful 1916 'Portrait of the Sculptor Oscar Miestchaninoff,' which sold for $9.3 million. 'The exceptional performance of last night'ssale was a testament to the continued strengthening and growth of the impressionist and modern art market at all price levels,' Christopher Burge, Christie's chairman, said Wednesday. 'These high-caliber paintings and sculptures came from a variety of sources, indicating that a greater number of sellers, inspired by stronger results in the past two seasons, have increased confidence in putting their artworks on the market.' Burge said 45 percent of the buyers were American and 28 percent European. The rest were Asian, South American, or unidentified. Another surprise in the sale was the $6.4 million price fetched by each of two Henri Matisse paintings -- the luxuriant 1938 'Two Women' and a 1951 decoupage still life, 'Chinese Fish.' They sold for nearly $2 million above their presale estimates. Claude Monet's 1908 'Nympheas,' one of his many waterlily studies, sold for its estimated value of $5 million. Other top prices were $3.5 million for Monet's 'Charing Cross Bridge,' painted on a visit to London in 1903; $2.3 million for Edgar Degas' 'After the Bath (Reclining Nude Woman),' a pastel drawn in 1885; and $2.2 million for Alberto Giacometti's 1949 bronze, 'The Place No. 2,' depicting a group of five skinny figures walking. Every major period of Picasso's seven-decade career can be found in the sales which continue through Nov. 17. Some 86 Picasso paintings and sculptures are being offered and may bring as much as $60 million, aside from the prices of other works such as prints and ceramics. The sales continued Wednesday at Sotheby's where 88 major works, including a celebrated 1875 Paris cityscape by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 'Place de la Trinite,' were offered. The Renoir was expected to bring at least $8 million for its unidentified owner, a New England collector.