Femme assise sur une chaise" by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso is pictured during Sotheby's press preview of the Autumn Evening Auctions in New York on October 30, 2015. (AFP Photo)
Sotheby's kicked off New York auction season today by selling $377 worth of art amassed by self-made billionaire Alfred Taubman in a slightly lackluster night that fell short of top estimates.
There was strong bidding from America, Asia and Europe during the two and a half hour bidding war for 77 lots that included work by European greats Picasso, Degas, Monet and Modigliani.
The American real estate mogul Taubman was a former chairman of Sotheby's, who turned the auction house around but briefly went to prison in 2002 for price fixing. He always maintained his innocence.
He died in April aged 91.
The top selling lot of the night was a beautiful portrait by Amedeo Modigliani which fetched $42.81 million at its first auction appearance after bidding between five buyers, Sotheby's said.
The 1919 "Paulette Jourdain" depicts the housemaid and later lover of the Italian's art dealer, Leopold Zborowski. It was one of the artist's last paintings.
The second highest lot was a 1976 landscape by Dutch-American abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning, "Untitled XXI," which sold for $24.89 million, scraping its lowest pre-sale estimate of $25 million.
A Pablo Picasso portrait of his lover Dora Maar, once owned by murdered Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace, sold slightly under budget at $20 million.
Sotheby's had valued the oil painting, "Femme assise sur une chaise," at $25 to $35 million before the auction.
Two other top lots failed to sell after failing to attract minimum bids -- "Femme Nue" by Edgar Degas and "Disappearance I" by American painter Jasper Johns, which were both valued at $15-20 million.
Simon Shaw, co-head of Sotheby's impressionist and modern art, said he was "surprised" that the Degas had not sold and expected there would now be a lot of competition to snap it up.'Efficient market'
"That was one of the real jewels of this collection. No question that's the best Degas pastel that has been on the market in quite a significant time," he told reporters.
European collectors snapped up at least five of the top 10 bids and three went to private American collectors, the auction house said.
"There's a lot of liquidity out there but people really want the right things. And they're quite careful about how they spend their money, so it's quite an efficient marketplace I'd say," Shaw said.
Among those in attendance were Italian fashion designer Valentino and Taubman's family.
Born to Polish immigrants, Taubman made a fortune by developing and building shopping malls. He was a prominent philanthropist, as well as businessman, who built up a staggering art collection.
Wednesday's auction also set a world record price at auction for artist Frank Stella, whose "Delaware Crossing" sold for $13.69 million.
Sotheby's had valued the Taubman collection at $375 million to $527 million, before the sale. Other items are being auctioned on Thursday.
Taubman was convicted in a New York federal court of colluding with a counterpart at Christie's in a conspiracy that US prosecutors claimed cheated customers out of $100 million.
The rival auction houses go head to head in a week of auction sales six months after the spring season smashed a string of records and netted more than $2.6 billion for Christie's and Sotheby's.
Fueled by rising demand from Asia and the Gulf, it set a new record for a work of art sold at auction -- $179.4 million for Picasso's "The Women of Algiers (Version 0)."
The most expensive lots this season are a sumptuous nude by Modigliani valued at $100 million and a pop art masterpiece from Roy Lichtenstein estimated at $80 million, both to go under the hammer at Christie's.