May 3, 2006

Picasso portrait fetches $95 million at Sotheby’s

By Christopher Michaud

NEW YORK (Reuters)- Picasso's 1941 portrait of his
mistress, "Dora Maar with cat," sold for an astounding $95
million at Sotheby's on Wednesday, becoming the second most
expensive painting in auction history.

The vibrant, large-scale work depicts Maar, the surrealist
photographer Picasso was romantically involved with for a
decade, seated in a chair with a small cat perched on the back.

It had been expected to sell for upwards of $40 million,
but the winning bid of $95,216,000, including commission,
caught even Sotheby's officials by surprise.

"I was hoping for 70-plus," said David Norman, Sotheby's
co-chair of Impressionist and modern art, after the sale. "We
thought it was worth more, and we were right."

Even Tobias Meyer, the usually unflappable auctioneer,
admitted he was surprised when the bidding passed $65 million.

"The energy in the room was incredible," he said. "There's
just a very clear, strong demand for the kind of intense
painting with an emotional pull that the Picasso represents;
things that are made for our times,"

Given a less-than robust economy, Norman said he was
"surprised, thrilled and grateful," at the sale's result "but I
wasn't expecting a poor sale. We knew there's a tremendous pool
of money out there," he said.

The auction of Impressionist and modern art brought in a
total of $207,564,800, it's third highest sales figure ever,
Sotheby's said.

"I didn't dare hope we'd do this well," said Norman.

Two works owned by disgraced Tyco head Dennis Kozlowski and
being sold by court order to offset fines and restitution also
achieved solid prices. Monet's "Near Monte-Carlo (Cape Martin:
The point)" sold for just over $5 million, while Renoir's
"Flowers and fruit" went for just over $2.8 million.

The sale's other high points included a new record for a
Matisse which sold for $18,496,000 and several other Picassos.
They included "Harlequin with baton" which sold for $10,096,000
and "Woman seated in an armchair," which fetched $6,736,000.

The world record for any art sold at auction is held by
another Picasso, "Boy with a pipe," which Sotheby's sold two
years ago for 104 million. The second-highest price before
Wednesday was van Gogh's "Portrait of Dr. Gachet" at $82.5
million, which sold in 1990.