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London art auctions show rise on 2010 totals.

There was none of the drama of last February, when Sotheby's sold a Giacometti statue for a new world record auction price, but art sales this month in London banished immediate concerns about a boom-and-bust cycle. Comparisons were imperfect, especially at Sotheby's which held a special single-owner sale on Feb. 10 that was comfortably the biggest in a series of auctions held by the company and its great rival Christie's just down the road. Overall, however, the totals were higher than this time last year, supporting the auctioneers' argument that the recent strong recovery in prices after the slump of late 2008 and 2009 could be sustained. Some analysts said there was growing evidence of more speculative money entering the fine art world, raising the risks of a sharp downturn at some point. And while aggressive Chinese buying was the big theme in 2010, collectors from the former Soviet Union were believed to be behind some of the highest prices of the last two weeks, according to experts. Top lot was Pablo Picasso's "La Lecture" on Feb. 8 at Sotheby's which sold for 25.2 million pounds ($40.7 million), well above pre-sale expectations. It lifted the tally for the modern and impressionist evening sale to 68.8 million pounds, within expectations. Probably the highlight of the series was Sotheby's single collection "Looking Closely" auction, which made 93.5 million pounds, or double expectations. Among the top lots were Francis Bacon's triptych of fellow British painting titan Lucian Freud (23.0 million pounds) and Salvador Dali's "Portrait de Paul Eluard" which set an auction record for a surrealist work of 13.5 million pounds. According to unofficial Reuters totals, Sotheby's sold art worth 242.1 million pounds at five sales, up from 230.2 million from four last year including the record-breaking Giacometti. Christie's has sold art worth 167.7 million pounds with a relatively minor day sale still to go on Thursday, compared with 133.6 million at the equivalent point in 2010. On Wednesday a previously unpublished Andy Warhol self-portrait went for 10.8 million pounds, but earlier in the series, Paul Gauguin's still life with sunflowers failed to sell. It had been expected to fetch up to 10 million pounds.

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Publication:Financial Mirror (Cyprus)
Date:Feb 17, 2011
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