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Picasso headlines record-setting art auction

Picasso's La Reve November 11, 1997
Web posted at: 10:11 a.m. EST (1511 GMT)

NEW YORK (CNN) -- During their lifetimes, Sally and Victor Ganz collected art because they loved it. They had a remarkably good eye for important work: their collection, auctioned off Monday night at Christie's in New York, brought more than $206 million and set a record for a sale by a single owner.

One painting alone, Pablo Picasso's 1932 portrait "La Reve" ("The Dream"), was sold to an anonymous bidder Monday night for $48.4 million. The erotic portrait depicts Picasso's mistress, Marie-Therese Walter; it was the second highest price ever paid for a Picasso work.

The Ganzes bought it for $7,000 in 1941, the year they were married, and hung it casually in their dining room.

Victor and Sally Ganz

Although not immensely wealthy, over 50 years the Ganzes amassed one of the greatest art collections of the 20th century. They owned paintings by Picasso, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella and others.

The Ganzes kept a low profile socially. Victor Ganz worked in the family's costume jewelry business, and his wife worked at Macy's before their marriage.

But by all accounts, they had an unerring eye for talent and quality, being among the first to collect Johns, who became a good friend, and Stella. A typical Saturday afternoon would find them quietly poking around galleries.

Their four children decided to put the modern masterpieces up for sale after Sally Ganz died in January. Her husband died in 1987.

"Victor and Sally Ganz were privileged to be the custodians of this collection for a short time. They will not be forgotten," their daughter, Nancy Ganz Wright, told the packed auction house.

Millions spent on modern art

Picassos accounted for more than $164 million of the auction total, and were eight of the 10 most expensive works sold Monday.

Click here for large picture of living room

His cubist "Femme assise dans un fauteuil," or "Woman Sitting in an Armchair," sold for $24.7 million. And four pieces in the 15-painting series "Les femmes d'Alger" ("The Women of Algiers") sold for prices ranging from $7.1 million to $31.9 million.

Other artists also did well. Johns' "Corpse and Mirror," painted in 1974, sold for $8.3 million. Rauschenberg's "Red Interior" sold for $5.8 million. Stella's "Turkish Mambo" fetched $3.6 million. And the late Eva Hesse's fishnet bags sold for $2 million.

The previous record for a single-owner auction was $135 million paid for fine art, furniture and decorative objects belonging to Campbell Soup heir John Dorrance Jr. at Sotheby's in 1989.

Auction exceeds expectations

The auction's attendance and its sales total far exceeded Christie's expectations. A spokesman for the auction house said the sale was "enormously in excess of anything we had hoped for." The couple's 115-piece collection had been valued at $135 million, a total surpassed well before the end of the auction.

And with a record crowd of 2,000 prospective bidders, Christie's had to double the capacity of its main auction room for the sale, and add three additional rooms to accommodate bidders. Telephone lines were doubled for bidders not there in person.

Correspondent Norma Quarles and Reuters contributed to this report.


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