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Picasso breaks record at auction

From Phil Hirschkorn

The painting was completed in 1905, shortly after Picasso arrived in Paris.
If you had the money, would you spend $100 million on a painting?
Sotheby's Holdings Incorporated
Pablo Picasso
Arts (general)

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A painting by Pablo Picasso of an adolescent boy holding a pipe has fetched all-time record price at auction in New York.

Picasso's "Boy With A Pipe" ("Garçon a la Pipe") was sold to an anonymous bidder represented in the room by Warren Weitman of Sotheby's for $93 million.

The final price, reflecting commissions for the auctioneer, is roughly $104.1 million.

The price easily beats that of the previous all-time record setter, Van Gogh's "Portrait of Dr. Gachet," which sold at a Christie's auction for $82.5 million in 1990.

Bidding was begun on Wednesday evening by auctioneer Tobias Meyer at $55 million.

A few minutes later, with the price at $79 million, a lull enveloped the room.

"Are we done? I'm happy to wait," Meyer said.

That was when the new bidder, in cell phone contact with a potential buyer, chimed in, upping the bid to $80 million.

There were seven different prospective buyers bidding in $1 million increments over five minutes.

"I have to be patient," Meyer said.

The final price of $104.1 million factors in the auctioneers commission which is 20 percent for the first $200,000 and 12 percent afterwards.

Several lots also fetched record prices for the work of other artists including paintings by Alfred Munnings, William Blake, Jean-Frederic Bazille and Raoul Dufy with prices ranging between $3 million and $8 million.

Another noteworthy painting in the Whitney sale was Eduard Manet's "Racing Scene" ("Courses au Bois de Boulogne"), completed in 1871, which shows a spectator-filled day at the horse races in a park in Paris.

It sold for $26.3 million.

The paintings are two of 34 artworks being sold from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney to raise money for the Greentree Foundation, which Betsey Cushing Whitney founded after her husband's death in 1982 to promote international peace and diplomacy.

The Picasso, completed in 1905 when the artist was 24, is considered one of the Spanish artist's best works still in private hands. The Whitneys bought it from a gallery in Zurich, Switzerland, for about $30,000 in 1950.

"It is in a pristine condition, and it is from a very sought-after period that almost never appears at auction. The blue and rose period masterpieces are almost entirely in museums," said David Norman, co-chairman of Sotheby's Impressionist Art Department.

Picasso's "rose period," distinguished by his use of that color between 1904-06, yielded works with "a more poetic mood, a softer mood, a more romantic mood," Norman said.

The 39-x-32-inch oil painting shows a boy, in Paris, where Picasso lived, wearing blue overalls, holding a pipe in his left hand, and wearing a crown of roses amidst a rosy background.

The most expensive Picasso previously sold for $55 million in 2000.

The Impressionists, like Manet, "weren't into historical or religious scenes or portraits of the aristocracy," Norman said.

"They wanted to show their contemporary life as it was lived."

The work of Manet, who died at 52, is scarcer than that of the prolific Picasso, who lived to 92.

"Unlike Picasso, who appears at sale frequently, Manets rarely if ever come to market," Norman said.

The Whitney collection of modern American and French paintings once included Pierre Auguste Renoir's "Au Moulin de la Galette," which Sotheby's sold for $78 million in 1990, the second-highest auction price of all time and a record for the artist.

The Whitneys also owned a Paul Cezanne still-life of pears and apples ("Rideau cruchon de compotier"), which Sotheby's sold for $60 million in 1999, a record for the artist and the fifth-highest auction price ever.

Whitney, born into one of America's wealthiest families, was a venture capitalist, publisher, Broadway show and Hollywood film producer, and philanthropist.

He served as U.S. Ambassador to England from 1956-61 and as a trustee of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Mrs. Whitney died in 1998.

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