NEW YORK • He is America's most celebrated painter of the solitary realities of 20th-century life.
But on Tuesday night at Christie's, Edward Hopper joined the unreality of today's art market when his 1929 painting Chop Suey sold for US$91.9 million (S$126.5 million), with fees, an auction high for the artist.
The previous high for Hopper had been US$40.5 million back in 2013.
Chop Suey was the most expensive of 91 works Christie's offered from the estate of Barney A. Ebsworth, the Seattle-based travel entrepreneur and renowned collector of American art, who died in April.
Reportedly long-promised to the Seattle Art Museum, this much-exhibited painting of two young women seated in a sunlit Chinese restaurant had been estimated to go for US$70 million to US$100 million.
"Really, US$100 million for a Hopper? I don't know how they come up with these valuations," said Mr Howard Rehs, a New York gallerist specialising in American art, who, like other dealers, expressed incredulity at some of the estimates put on works in a "gigaweek" of Christie's, Sotheby's and Phillips art auctions that could raise at least US$1.8 billion.
But Chop Suey was always going to sell, being one of 10 works in Christie's 42-lot evening session of the Ebsworth auction backed by third-party guarantors.
They hoped either to buy the works or be financially rewarded if they were outbid.
The guarantor of the Hopper, for example, was rewarded with a handsome financing fee of about US$4 million, deducted from the final price.
The combination of some hefty estimates and third-party guarantees resulted in measured bidding for the top lots.
Willem de Kooning's 1955 canvas, Woman As Landscape, a rare early work at auction, took US$68.9 million, with fees - also a salesroom high for the artist.
And the relatively small 1950 Jackson Pollock drip painting Composition With Red Strokes went for US$55.4 million. Both works sold near their low estimates.
"It didn't fly, but it was pretty solid," said Mr Philippe Segalot, a private art dealer based in New York, referring to the auction.