Gris, Picasso lead way in record London auction

LONDON - Paintings by Pablo Picasso, Rene Magritte and Juan Gris have pushed a sale at Christie's to a record for London of nearly £177 million (S$365 million, US$288 million, 213 million euros), the auction house said Wednesday.

Gris' still-life "Nature Morte a la Nappe a Carreaux" ("The Checked Tablecloth") led the way, selling for £34.8 million to smash the world 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 achieved in 2010 when his 1913 painting of a violin and a guitar sold for $28.6 million in New York.

The second-highest sale of the night was for Pablo Picasso's 1955 portrait of lover Jacqueline Roque ("Femme au costume turc dans un fauteuil"), which sold for nearly £16.9 million.

A 1928 work by Belgian surrealist painter Magritte, "The hunters at the edge of night", fetched more than £6.5 million.

Other big sales tags included Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti's bronze work of three men, which fetched £9 million.

Thirty-five works of art sold for over £1 million at the sale of Impressionist, modern and Surrealist art, which signals the start of two weeks of auctioneering in the British capital.

The auction was truncated after Christie's cancelled the sale of 85 paintings by Spanish master Joan Miro, valued at more than 36 million euros ($48.5 million), 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 yield a much-needed injection of funds.

Earlier on Tuesday, a Portuguese court had 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.