Auction record smashed for Spanish cubist artist Gris

LONDON - Juan Gris's Cubist still life "Nature Morte a la Nappe a Carreaux" ("The Checked Tablecloth") sold for £34.8 million (S$72.2 million) at a London sale Tuesday, smashing the auction record for the Spanish artist.

The 1915 work portrays a pile of objects - including a bunch of grapes and a newspaper - on a checked tablecloth.

It smashed pre-sale estimates of £12-18 million, fetching almost double the previous record for a Gris work at auction.

That was achieved in 2010 when his 1913 painting of a violin and a guitar sold for $28.6 million in New York.

The Christie's sale of Impressionist, modern and Surrealist art signals the start of two weeks of auctioneering in the British capital, setting the art market's tone for the coming year.

Other important items sold included Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti's bronze work of three men, which fetched £9 million, and Cubist master Pablo Picasso's 1955 portrait of lover Jacqueline Roque, which went under the hammer for £16.9 million pounds.

The auction was truncated after Christie's announced earlier in the day that it had cancelled the sale of 85 paintings by Spanish master Joan Miro, valued at more than 36 million euros, over a legal dispute in Portugal.

The paintings became Portuguese state property following the nationalisation of the BPN bank in 2008 and their sale met with fierce opposition from art lovers in Portugal.

But the cash-strapped Portuguese government has argued that the sale of the paintings would bring a much-needed injection of funds.

Earlier on Tuesday, a Portuguese court rejected a request from the opposition Socialist party for the sale to be halted.

However, hours before the first of the paintings were due to go under the hammer, Christie's said it would not go ahead with the sale because of the "legal uncertainties" surrounding the works.

"The sale of the collection of 85 works by Joan Miro has been cancelled as a result of a dispute before the Portuguese court, to which Christie's is not a party," the auction house said.