$60.5M Bid Snares Cezanne

A Cezanne still life sold for $60.5 million, the fourth-highest price ever for a work of art sold at auction.

The painting, Rideau, Cruchon et Compotier (Still Life With Curtain, Pitcher and Bowl of Fruit) is "as close to perfection as I have ever witnessed a work of art," Charles Moffett, a specialist in Impressionist and modern art for Sotheby's auction house, said after Monday's sale.

The work by Paul Cezanne, painted in 1893-1894, led a strong sale of artworks from the estate of Betsey Cushing Whitney, who died last year at the age of 89. She was the widow of John Hay "Jock" Whitney, a financier, philanthropist and ambassador to Great Britain, who died in 1982.

The price far exceeded Sotheby's estimate of up to $35 million. The previous record for a Cezanne sold at auction was $28.6 million in 1993.

All 50 lots sold for a total of $128.3 million. The second-highest price was $35.2 million for Georges Seurat's The Isle of the Grand Jatte, a study for his 1884 masterpiece, Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte.

The price for the Seurat was several times the previous auction record for the artist, $2.7 million for The Channel of Grave Lines: Little Fort Philippe in 1996.

Diana Brooks, the president of Sotheby's North America, said, "It's rare in one's lifetime that we are able to be privileged enough to work with a collection of this caliber."

The sale also included two Picassos formerly in the collection of Gertrude Stein: Still Life With a Bottle of Rum, which sold for $7.9 million, and The Journal, which sold for $6.8 million.

All buyers were anonymous, and the prices include the auction house's commission of 15 percent of the hammer price up to $50,000 and 10 percent of the total in excess of that amount.

The highest price ever paid for a painting at auction was $82.5 million for van Gogh's Portrait of Dr. Gachet, sold during the height of the art boom in 1990.

The second-highest price was $78.1 million for Renoir's At the Moulin de la Galette, also in 1990. The painting was also from the Whitneys' collection. The third-highest price was $71.5 million for a van Gogh self-portrait that sold last fall.

Written By Karen Matthews