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Peggy and David Rockefeller auction sets world record


Day one of the Peggy and David Rockefeller auction went off with a bang at Christie’s, setting a new record for the most valuable sale in history.

The vast collection of 19th and 20th century art achieved a record $646m. The previous record for a single sale was $484m, set for the collection of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé in 2009.

The star of the auction was undoubtedly Picasso’s Fillette à la corbeille fleurie (1905), which achieved $115m – the second highest result for the artist at auction.

Picasso was just 23 when he painted this work (Image: Christie's)

The piece dates to Picasso’s pink period, when he was a 23 year old aspiring artist living the bohemian life in Montmartre.

The girl’s enigmatic expression has long captivated art lovers. Novelist Gertrude Stein acquired the work with her brother Leo for around $30 in 1905. She’d later describe it as: “a charming thing, a lovely thing, a perplexing thing, a disconcerting thing, a simple thing, a clear thing, a complicated thing, an interesting thing, a disturbing thing…”

Claude Monet’s Nymphéas en fleur (circa 1914-1917) became the artist’s most valuable work at auction, achieving $84.6m.

Nympheas en Fleur is unusual in that it shows water lilies in bloom (Image: Christie's)

That edged out the $81.4m paid for his Grainstacks in 2016.

Nymphéas en fleur was produced just prior to Monet’s celebrated “Grandes decorations” series of water lily paintings. He envisaged these monumental works (some as much as 55 feet in length) as a gift for the French people.

The painting is unusual for showing the lilies in full bloom. Interestingly, this gives the work extra appeal on the Asian market – where blooming water lilies are a symbol of good fortune. This may explain the frenzied bidding.

It just wouldn’t be a top whack art sale without one of Matisse’s acclaimed odalisques. The Rockefellers acquired Odalisque couchée aux magnolias (1923) in 1958. It realised a solid $80.7m this time around. 

The radiant sunlight of southern France informs Matisse's Odalisque couchee aux magnolias (Image: Christie's)

The model is Henriette Darricarrère, one of Matisse’s favourites. This piece was painted two years after he moved to the south of France. This was a time of great contentment for Matisse, something that is reflected in the lazy beauty of the present work.

The Rockefeller auction is only just getting started. From May 9-11 seven sales will be hosted in New York, with consignments ranging from American art to Chinese ceramics.

It’s entirely possible that this could be the first $1bn estate auction. However, all of it will be going to a selection of charities and organisations the Rockefellers supported over their lifetimes – including the Maine Coast Heritage Trust and MoMA.

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