NEW YORK (AFP) - Christie's kicked off the fall auction season in New York on Monday with a Vincent van Gogh painting leading the way at US$81.3 million (S$111 million) amid robust sales of impressionist and modern art.
Laboureur Dans Un Champ, painted by the tortured Dutch genius from the window of a French asylum where he had committed himself, was sold to a buyer on the telephone after a frenzied four-minute bidding war. It had been valued at US$50 million.
Van Gogh began the painting of a ploughman tilling the soil in late August 1889 and completed it on Sept 2, the first time he picked up his brushes for a month and a half after an epileptic fit. He died the following year.
The amount fetched was just a hair's breath from the auction record for a van Gogh, set in 1990 at US$82.5 million for Portrait Of Dr Gachet, although that price would be much higher if adjusted for today's inflation.
The other chief highlight was Contraste De Formes, a 1913 Fernand Leger abstract that fetched US$70 million, setting a new world auction record for the artist, the auction house said.
Rene Magritte's L'empire Des Lumieres - a nocturnal bourgeois street scene - was sold for US$20.56 million, which Christie's said set a world auction record for the Belgian surrealist.
Painted in 1949, it was the first of 17 versions of the picture that Magritte produced in oil paint over the next 15 years.
Christie's said its flagship evening sale of impressionist and modern art netted a total of US$479 million.
Pablo Picasso holds the world record for the most expensive piece of art ever sold at auction. The Women Of Algiers (Version O) got US$179.4 million at Christie's in New York in 2015.
The star lot in New York's November art auctions is Salvator Mundi, a painting of Jesus Christ by Leonardo da Vinci. It goes under the hammer on Wednesday evening.