Never underestimate the power of pretty women. Pablo Picasso set a record Monday when his 1955 painting of a harem of colorfully dressed women, Women of Algiers (Version O), sold for $179.4 million — the most ever paid for an work of art at auction. The price surpasses the $142.4 million paid two years ago for Francis Bacon’s triptych, Three Studies of Lucian Freud, as well as earlier record of $120 million for Edvard Munch’s tortured Scream.
In a dogged contest at the auction house’s New York saleroom, the bidding for the Picasso began at $100 million and shot up quickly, with four telephone bidders competing for the jewel-tone scene of Cubist-style women lounging at odd angles in a room festooned with lush, striped décor. But as the price topped $145 million, the bidding war winnowed to a pair of telephone bidders and the room watched, hushed, a few pulling out their cellphones to capture the moment. After 11 minutes, the gavel fell and Brett Gorvy, global head of post-war art, fielded the anonymous winning bid.
The Picasso was considered a trophy as much for its ownership pedigree as its artistic merits. The work last changed hands 18 years ago when the estate of U.S. collectors Victor and Sally Ganz sold it through the auction house to a London dealer for $31.9 million. Its seller on Monday remains anonymous.