Art Sale Falls [Pounds Sterling]75m Short; Russian Trophy: A Rare Painting by Kazimir Malevich Was One of the Few Stars of the Sotheby's Sale in New York,raising [Pounds Sterling]36.6 Million, with the Buyer Believed to Be Chelsea FC Owner Roman Abramovich

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SOTHEBY'S prime New York sale of impressionist and modern paintings saw only nine of 70 pictures and sculptures make their estimates.

The [pounds sterling]137million auction ended [pounds sterling]75 million short of expectation and auctioneer Tobias Meyer soberly admitted: "It's a new world." More than 1,200 spectators crowded into Sotheby's York Avenue sale room last night to see if Picassos, Renoirs and Modiglianis would continue their starry rise of the last four years, when they climbed as steeply as Wall Street fell. It was not to be.

European buyers sat poleaxed by the dollar's stupendous leap in the last four weeks and American buyers were poleaxed by vast share losses. When Mr Meyer laid down his hammer, most sales had taken place around 20 per cent below the printed estimates.

Triumph mingled with disaster as the market split into high-priced success at the top and damage at every other level. Sotheby's, which had assembled one of its best sales of the last 20 years, was at least consoled by three of the highest art prices of the century.

Kazimir Malevich's Suprematist Composition of 1916 sold for [pounds sterling]36.6 million ($60 million), Edvard Munch's erotic Vampire of 1894 made [pounds sterling]23.3 million ($38.2 million) and Edgar Degas's ballet pastel Danseuse au Repos [pounds sterling]22.6 million ($37 million).

Only one bidder came forward for the rare Malevich, an artist who appears at sales once every 10 years. It was guessed by many to be Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.

Mr Abramovich bought Francis Bacon for $86.6 million and Lucian Freud for $36.3 million in New York last May and tried and failed to buy Monet at Christie's in London in June for [pounds sterling]40 million. Full details of his wealth and yacht building emerged in a High Court judgment last week and his ability to add the Malevich to his art collection was not doubted last night.

The Malevich was a Russian trophy a picture removed from the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam last April and handed back to the Malevich family after descendants claimed the museum had bought it 60 years ago from a person it knew had no right to sell. Spare, austere, it was pioneering Russian abstract art.

No less rare was Munch's Vampire, his most celebrated work after The Scream in which a long-tressed redhead kisses a man's neck from above as he kisses her breast. …


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