Silence fell over the salesroom tonight at Christie’s in New York exactly at 8 p.m. as the star lot from the collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller, Pablo Picasso’s Fillette à la corbeille fleurie (Young Girl With a Flower Basket, 1905) was called up for sale. It was the highest-valued lot of the evening, as well as the highest-valued work being sold at auction from the entire collection, and it carried an on-request estimate from the house of upwards of $90 million.
The bidding began at $90 million and climbed quickly to $100 million, then $102 million, a figure offered by a bidder participating by phone. And that is where it stopped.
Auctioneer Jussi Pylkkänen waited patiently, seeing if someone would fight for the work and send the price soaring. He called out individual specialists by name, asking if they wanted to come in. None did. And after a few minutes, he brought down his hammer. The final price, with buyer’s premium included, came to $115.1 million.
The work, which dates from Picasso’s Rose Period, had been acquired by David Rockefeller in 1968 from a syndicate he formed with Museum of Modern Art trustees to acquire the collection of writer Gertrude Stein after her death. As the famous story goes, the trustees drew numbers from a hat, Rockefeller got first pick, and he selected the Picasso, which Gertrude and her brother Leo Stein had acquired at a Paris gallery the year it was painted.
While tonight’s showing was formidable (nine-figure results are rare at any auction), the most ever paid for a Picasso at auction remains the $179.4 million shelled out for Les femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’), 1955, at Christie’s New York in May 2015. At the time, it was the most ever paid for any work at auction, a title that is now held by Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi (ca. 1500), which sold for $450.3 million in November.
Tonight’s affair was the first live auction of works from the Rockefeller Collection, which are being sold to benefit philanthropic causes. Some 1,500 pieces of art, decorative arts, and other material are being auctioned across a number of sales at Christie’s.