The Most Expensive Woman of Algiers

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Picasso's Woman of Algiers

The Women of Algiers, a vibrant, multi-hued painting from Pablo Picasso became moments ago  the world’s most expensive artwork, selling for $179,365,000,  in a Christie’s auction.

The price for the Picasso 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.”

The price discovery, according to the WSJ, was described as a “dogged contest at Christie’s New York salesroom, with the bidding starting 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 postwar art, fielded the anonymous winning bid. The real buyer is unknown.

The WSJ describes the painting as “a riot of colors and focuses mainly on a scantily dressed woman whose face evokes Picasso’s former lover, Françoise Gilot. She is joined by a disconnected tumble of other, smaller nudes who each seem to conjure other modern masterworks. The obvious muse is Eugène Delacroix’s 1834 scene of Algerian women in a fantasy interior. But Picasso also painted the work as a homage to his artistic hero and sometime rival Henri Matisse, who had died the year before.”

Why the high price?

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.
However, considering that the estimate price for the painting was nearly $40 million lower than the gavel price, one also has to thank the record $150 billion in global QE injecting stock market liquidity (and removing bond market liquidity) courtesy of the ECB and BOJ each and every month.

Picasso’s record price on Monday reflects the trophy-hunting atmosphere dominating the global art marketplace now, as billionaires compete for the handful of masterpieces that come up for sale in any given season. Bragging rights are part of the works’ allure, but the collective bidding is also ratcheting price levels for dozens of the world’s top artists.

This is not the end of it.

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