London: A Pablo Picasso painting of his mistress and model Marie-Therese Walter titled "La Lecture" fetched 25.2 million pounds ($40.7 million) at a Sotheby`s auction on Tuesday, above pre-sale estimates.
The painting, which had been expected to fetch between 12 and 18 million pounds at the London sale, helped lift the modern and impressionist art auction total to 68.8 million pounds, including the buyers` premium.
Excluding the premium Sotheby`s was hoping to raise between 55.6-79.3 million pounds, meaning the total is likely to be seen as a solid start to a busy month of London sales that will put recent soaring prices for fine art to the test.
According to Sotheby`s, up to seven bidders tried to buy La Lecture, which dates from 1932. After six minutes of bidding in the saleroom and on the telephone, the work went to an anonymous telephone bidder.
The Picasso was by far the biggest lot of an auction which failed to match the excitement of the equivalent sale last year, when a Giacometti statue set a new world auction record of $104.3 million.
Months later, Sotheby`s main rival Christie`s sold Picasso`s "Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust" for $106.5 million in New York.
Christie`s, the world`s largest auction house, holds its first sale of the London series on Wednesday when it expects to raise 55-81 million pounds.
That includes a still life by Paul Gauguin in tribute to Vincent Van Gogh estimated to fetch 7-10 million pounds.