NEW YORK (AFP) — An early work by French impressionist Claude Monet sold for a record 41.4 million dollars in New York late Tuesday at an auction that nevertheless suggested the art market is feeling the effects of the stuttering US economy.
"Le Pont du chemin de fer a Argenteuil," an 1873 painting of a railway bridge spanning the Seine near Paris and described by Christie's auction house as a "truly exceptional picture," was bought by an anonymous telephone bidder.
"It is the quintessential early Monet. We will not see another one this good for a long while, I don't suppose, unless this one lures a few out," Christie's honorary chairman and the evening's auctioneer, Christopher Burge, said.
The previous record for the artist stood at 36.5 million dollars.
However, two other works by Monet as well as works by Picasso, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Renoir and Matisse failed to find buyers, adding fuel to concerns that the art market is feeling the pinch of the US housing and credit crises.
Burge gave an upbeat picture of the sale, describing the market for good impressionist works as "alive and well," despite the total sales falling just below the auction house's low estimate of 287 million dollars.
"I'm extremely pleased with the results tonight because I think we did extremely well," he told AFP after the auction.
Besides the Monet, records were also set for French impressionist Auguste Rodin, Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti and Spanish surrealist Joan Miro.
Rodin's bronze "Eve, grand modele - version sans rocher," went for 18.9 million dollars to a telephone bidder, while Giacometti's "Grande femme debout II," also a bronze, was bought by the Gagosian art gallery for 27.4 million.
Miro's "La caresse des etoiles," meanwhile sold to an anonymous bidder for 17 million dollars.
Burge played down the significance of so many leading artists and some 24 percent of the evening's lots failing to sell.
"I think where things didn't sell it was either because the works were unusual or they were possibly overpriced, or we were going for big estimates," he said, singling out Van Gogh's "Route aux confins de Paris."
"That was a Paris period picture and they've never been the most expensive and we did go with a fairly grown-up estimate on that particular one and I think that was too much for the market," he said.
Concerns have been rising for months that the effect of the US housing crisis and credit crunch could stall the art market, but Burge said high-end buyers were still prepared to pay top prices for good works.
"Each lot is looked at by the buyers in a different way. It's not 'what's the Monet market doing,' it's 'what's going on with this particular painting,'" he added.
The sale revealed a larger than usual number of European buyers -- who made up 52 percent of the successful bidders. "Obviously the (weakness of the US) dollar plays some part in that," Burge said.
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