The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Picasso Pipe knocks Van Gogh off price perch

New York, May 6 (Reuters): Picasso’s Boy With a Pipe set a new world record for the most expensive painting ever sold at auction yesterday when it soared to $104,168,000 at Sotheby’s.

The price, which included the auction house’s commission, easily eclipsed the old mark of $82.5 million set by Van Gogh’s Portrait of Dr Gachet, which had stood since 1990 when speculation took hold of the art market.

The 1905 oil on canvas, a masterpiece from Picasso’s Blue period which depicts a local boy who regularly visited Picasso’s Montmartre studio, generated excitement in the art world in recent weeks with experts predicting it could break the $100 million barrier.

Sotheby’s had estimated the work, which was the highlight of its sale of the collection of Mr and Mrs John Hay Whitney on behalf of the late couple’s Greentree Foundation, at “in excess of $70 million”.

At least half a dozen bidders competed in earnest for the work, which started at $55 million and quickly escalated to $70 million. When it reached $79 million, two competing bidders drove the price up to $93 million, at which point the hammer came down to sustained applause in the packed salesroom.

Auctioneer Tobias Meyer noted after the sale that the Whitneys had purchased the Picasso in 1950 for about $30,000. Sotheby’s refused to divulge any information on the buyer.

Declaring that history had been made, Sotheby’s officials were ecstatic at the result, which totalled $189,894,400 for the 32 lots. Only two works went unsold.

David Norman, co-chair of Impressionist and modern art for Sotheby’s, attributed the price tag to several factors including the picture’s rarity, calling it the finest Blue or Rose period Picasso left in private hands.

“There’s just tremendous demand when a work like this becomes available,” he said, noting the “haunting, poetic” nature of the work, in which a teenaged boy dressed in blue work clothes sits holding a pipe, wearing a garland of flowers on his head.

Norman added that there was tremendous buoyancy and purchasing power in the market. His partner, Charles Moffett, added that the work’s condition was a factor.

“It’s in virtually perfect condition,” he said.

The previous record for a Picasso was $55,006,000, for Woman With Arms Crossed which was set in November 2000.

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