Christie's holds Britain's biggest art auction, led by Picasso's The Absinthe Drinker

Last night, Christie's held their vast sale of Impressionist and Modern Art, featuring works by many of the greatest painters of the last 150 years. The auction house had predicted that their sale would raise the greatest total ever seen at a UK art auction, and at £152,595,550 it did not disappoint.

Pablo Picasso's 1903 Blue Period masterpiece Portrait of Angel Fernández de Soto - also known as The Absinthe Drinker, due to the large glass of the drink which sits in front of the lugubrious subject - achieved the top lot status with enthusiastic bidders pushing the price up to £34,761,250 ($51.6m).

Pablo Picasso's painting The Absinthe Drinker
Picasso's The Absinthe Drinker
(Click to enlarge)

Another Picasso, Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, recently became the most valuable art work in the world.

The work was acquired by an anonymous phone bidder, after being offered at auction by The Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation - a charity founded by Lord Lloyd Webber to support arts, culture and heritage in the UK.

It had been bought by Lloyd Webber in May 1995 in New York for $29,152,500. He commented:

"I am pleased that my Foundation has raised over £30 million, especially in such austere times. This is a significant amount to devote to the Foundation's passions - architecture and the sponsorship of young talent in musical theatre."

Mark Wordsworth, Chairman of the Foundation, added:

"We are pleased that the Angel de Fernández de Soto by Pablo Picasso sold at auction today. The Trustees of the Foundation will now consider how best to apply the funds to promote the advancement of the arts, culture and heritage in the UK."

The painting is now the second highest priced art work sold by Christie's in London. It was one of eight works to be sold for over £5m and 31 to sell for seven figures. Other highlights included:

Frauenbildnis (Portrait of Ria Munk III), one of the last great female portraits (one of which is one of the top five most valuable art works in the world) painted by Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), sold for £18,801,250 ($27.9m) against an estimate of £14 million to £18 million.

Gustav Klimt's third portrait of Ria Munk
Gustav Klimt's third portrait of Ria Munk

Le Baiser, a work from 1969 by Pablo Picasso- the twilight of his career as he died in 1973 realised £12,137,250 ($18m), but a fertile and productive period nevertheless, it was exhibited at the celebrated exhibition of Picasso's work at Palais des Papes in Avignon in 1970.

The work had been acquired by the vendor at auction in London in June 2003 for £2,861,600, and had been expected to realise £8 million to £12 million.

Parc de l'hopital Saint-Paul,1889, by Vincent van Gogh(1853-1890) realised £9,001,250 ($13.4m). Painted during the artist's voluntary confinement at the asylum of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole, one of the richest and most important periods of his career, it was offered at auction having been in the same distinguished European collection since the 1960s (estimate: £8 million to £12 million)

Nu à la chaise longue,1923, an important and colourful work by Henri Matisse (1869-1954) which was formerly in the collection of the industrialist and celebrated collector Henri Canonne, sold for £6,649,250 ($9.9m).

Until the pre-sale exhibition at Christie's it had been unseen in public since the year after it was painted (estimate: £5.5 million to £8.5 million).

Giovanna Bertazzoni, Director and Head of Impressionist and Modern Art at Christie's London, was delighted:

"Global bidders competed at this evening's auction and demonstrated that the art market continues to attract significant levels of spending, particularly for the rarest and most exceptional works of art.

"We are particularly pleased that Picasso's portrait of Angel Fernández de Soto realized over £34 million with proceeds to benefit arts culture and heritage in the UK, and that for the first time an auction in London has broken the £150 million barrier."


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