Chaim Soutine's Le Petit Patissier (The Little Pastry Chef) achieved the highest price in Christie's Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale, which was held in New York yesterday (May 8).
The masterpiece is one of six pastry chef portraits that Soutine painted over nearly a decade, with the series bringing him into the international spotlight. An incredibly important piece in his oeuvre, Le Petit Patissier sold for $18m, comfortably within its $16m-22m estimate.
Christie's auction was preceeded by Sotheby's own Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale, which saw Paul Cezanne's Les Pommes - a still-life masterpiece - sell for $41m.
Soutine was of Belarusian Jewish origin and first arrived in Ceret, France in 1919. He was desperately poor and unknown at this stage, but soon developed an influential circle of friends, including Amedeo Modigliani.
It was at Modigliani's studio that respected dealer Paul Guillaume spotted the first of Soutine's pastry chef paintings and was immediately struck by its radiance. He bought it there and then, and later sold it to the wealthy and eccentric Dr Albert C Barnes.
Barnes would come to be Soutine's main patron, championing his work and bringing him to the forefront of the impressionist scene.
Bringing the second highest bids at Christie's was Marc Chagall's Les Trois Acrobats, which brought an outstanding 44.4% increase on its $9m high estimate to sell for $13m.
Continuing the familiar circus theme of Chagall's work, which is inspired by his early memory of struggling, unappreciated performers in Belarus, the 1926 piece joins a list of impressionist pieces painted in Paris that explore the subject.
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