Claude Monet auction most expensive in European art history

By Stephen Adams

The stratospheric state of the global art market has been underlined by figures that show last month's 'Monet' auction at Christie's in London was the most lucrative in European history.

The sale of Monet's Le bassin aux nymphéas doubled the previous record for a work by the Impressionist artist

Despite the global economic slowdown, Christie's evening sale of Impressionist and Modern Art fetched £144 million.

Of that total, £40.9 million was accounted for by the sale of Claude Monet's Le bassin aux nymphéas, from the Frenchman's waterlily series.

That was a world record for a work by the artist at auction - almost doubling the previous record of £21 million, set earlier this year at Christie's for Le Pont du chemin de fer á Argeneuil.

Humble motorists are effectively paying at the pump for the rocketing price of top works, art market analysts believe.

Controllers of Middle Eastern sovereign funds and Russian oligarchs are the new power brokers, they say.

That seems to have been born out by the £44 million Sotheby's sale in May of Francis Bacon's Triptych (1976) - the highest price ever paid for a work of contemporary art at auction. It was apparently sold to Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich.

Although the billionaire has not confirmed the purchase, it is thought he bought it for his young girlfriend Daria 'Dasha' Zhukova.

She is in the process of setting up a major new art gallery, the Garage Centre for Contemporary Culture Moscow, or CCC, due to open in September.

Another world record to be smashed this year is the £17.3 million spent on a painting of a naked JobCentre worker by Lucian Freud, Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, the most ever spent on a work by a living artist.

The first half of 2008 has brought worldwide sales of £1.8 billion for Christie's International, a 10 per cent increase on the same period last year. It's Asian salesrooms have seen 63 per cent year-on-year growth.

Edward Dolman, chief executive officer of Christie's International, said the figures reflected "the ongoing strength of the international art market."

He added: "Collectors across the globe have remained active and confident, despite more uncertain economic conditions in some regions.

"Christie's extensive international network has introduced an increasing number of buyers to the international art market from growth markets including Russia and the CIS states, the Middle East, India and China."

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