New York - An erotically charged Picasso oil painting of his mistress alongside tulips and fruit sold on Thursday for $41.5m on an otherwise anaemic night for high-end art in New York.
The painting sold for $26m in 2000, i e a return on investment of $15.5m.
"Nature morte aux tulipes," painted in 1932, was the star of Sotheby's Impressionist and modern art sale in Manhattan. The pre-sale estimate for the work had been between $35m and $50m.
The painting depicts the head of Marie-Therese Walter, who was Picasso's lover and famous muse, poised over a suggestive flower arrangement.
Its sale was one of the few bright spots for Sotheby's, with 30% of lots failing to sell and the total haul of the evening amounting to $163m - below the low end of the overall $169m to $245m estimate. This followed a similar performance at the Christie's auction on Wednesday.
Another of the Marie-Therese series offered by Sotheby's, "Femme a la fenetre (Marie-Therese)," sold for $17.2m, inside the $15m to $20m estimate.
Other successes included the $12.1m paid for "Champ de ble" by Claude Monet, Paul Cezanne's "Femme nue debout" went for $5.3m and Henry Moore's sculpture "Two piece reclining figure No 1" sold for $4.7m.
However, numerous works failed to find buyers, including Picasso's "Plant de tomate," estimated to sell for $10m to $15m, and the same artist's "Femme a la robe verte," which was listed at $6m to $8m. Cezanne's "La femme a l'hermine," which had been hoped to fetch between $5m and $7m, also flopped.
On Wednesday, Christie's in New York sold a Monet water lily painting for $43.8m and saw a painting by Wassily Kandinsky sell for an auction record of $23m. However, the auction overall was seen as relatively muted, with a third of works not selling.
Next week, the rival auction houses hold their contemporary art sales.