Star Lot from Picasso Leading Rockefeller's US$640m 'Sale of the Century'

Pablo Picasso’s Fillette à la corbeille fleurie has become the 6th most expensive painting in auction history, after being sold for US$115,000,000 at Christie’s ‘Sale of the Century’. The painting, which is from Picasso’s ‘Rose Period’, leads the opening sale.  

The Rockefellers

Live image from the opening sale in New York

The ‘19th and 20th Century Art Evening Sale’ -The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller, opened in New York. All 44 lots were sold, with 13 lots selling for over US$10m, making a sale total of US$646m. The sale was led by the three star lots from the collection as predicted.

The first star lot, Odalisque couchée aux magnolias, is from Henri Matisse, the leader of the ‘Fauves’ (Wild Beast) Movement. The painting has an estimate on request of US$50m, and was purchased by the Rockefellers in the late 1950s. Ever since then, it had been hanging on the sitting room wall in their country house.

The painting had been hanging on the sitting room wall in the Rockefellers’ country house

In art history, many great artists have painted the ‘odalisque’ - the female nude. Therefore, Matisse did the same as to measure himself against the masters of the past times and challenge himself. This painting includes colours and patterns that Matisse favoured, such as the geometric stripes on the green couch. This creates a sense of Utopia, which represents Matisse’s desire for a place of solace and rest.

Part of the painting

The bid started at US$50.8m. After 7 bids, it was hammered down at US$70.15m and sold for US$80.75m with premium, breaking Matisse’s own record in auction history.

The next star lot was Claude Monet’s Nymphéas en fleur. The painting was Monet’s work in the First World War, with an estimate of US$30.5m. In 1956, the Rockefellers purchased the painting from a dealer in Paris.

Monet has a love for his garden in Giverny (above), especially the water lillies and the reflections of the water. This represents the idea of ‘capturing the moment’, which was both the concern of the Impressionists and Monet. Monet focused on the different effects of light as reflected on water surfaces, as well as things and images that are there for a minute and gone the next. Nymphéas en fleur is the prime example of this idea.

Part of the painting

Jussi Pylkkanen- Global President of Christie’s

The bid started at US$38m and ignited fierce competition between bidders. Jussi Pylkkanen, the auctioneer, humorously said that it was like a tennis game with 5 rackets.  Around 35 bids later, the painting was hammered down for US$75m and sold for US$84.6m with premium, breaking the personal record of Monet in auction history.

The final of the three star lots is Pablo Picasso’s Fillette à la corbeille fleurie, a painting from Picasso’s ‘Rose Period” with an estimate of US$70m. The Rockefellers acquired this painting from the Steins in the late 1960s.

Across Pablo Picasso’s long career, there were various styles.The paintings from the Blue Period have a blue tonality whereas the paintings in the Rose Period have a more pastel shade. They are not necessarily all rose or pink but they have a warmer underglow.

Part of the painting

This is almost a life-size painting. The subject of this picture was called Linda la Bouquetière. She was a flower seller who was 14 or 15 years old. She sold flowers in a square very close to where Picasso’s studio was. The painting is in some way an allegory of spring. She is holding flowers, which suggests fertility in classical paintings. However, it is a modern work. Therefore, Linda’s face, which looks experienced and older than her actual age, represents a sense of drama and tragedy.

The bidding started at US$90m. After 5 bids, it was hammered down at US$102m (US$115m with premium), an offer made by the telephone bidder who was represented by Loic Gouzer, International Specialist and Chairman for the Post-War & Contemporary Art Department at Christie's Auction House (second from the left).


Top 5 Lots

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). Fillette à la corbeille fleurie.
Lot no.: 15
Painted: 1905
Size: 154.8 x 66.1 cm


  • Galerie du Vingtième Siècle (Galerie Clovis Sagot), Paris (acquired from the artist).

  • Gertrude and Leo Stein, Paris (acquired from the above, 1905).

  • Gertrude Stein, Paris (acquired from Leo Stein, 1913 or 1914).

  • Estate of Gertrude Stein, Paris (1946).

  • Syndicate of The Museum of Modern Art, New York (acquired from the above, 1968).

  • Acquired from the above by the late owners, December 1968.

Estimate: US$70,000,000

Hammered price: US$102,000,000

Price realised: US$115,000,000


Claude Monet (1840-1926). Nymphéas en feur.

Lot no.: 10

Painted: circa 1914-1917

Size: 160.3 x 180 cm


  • Estate of the artist.

  • Michel Monet, Giverny (by descent from the above).

  • Galerie Katia Granoff, Paris (acquired from the above, circa 1955).

  • Acquired from the above through M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., New York by the late owners, June 1956.

Estimate: US$35,000,000

Hammered price: US$75,000,000

Price realised: US$84,687,500


Henri Matisse (1869-1954). Odalisque couchée aux magnolias.

Lot no.: 8

Painted: 1923

Size: 60.5 x 81.1 cm


  • Josse and Gaston Bernheim-Jeune, Paris (acquired from the artist, 17 December 1923 and until at least 1945).

  • Leigh B. and Mary Block, Chicago (by 1956).

  • Sam Salz, Inc., New York (acquired from the above).

  • Acquired from the above by the late owners, January 1958.

Estimate: US$50,000,000

Hammered price: US$71,500,000

Price realised: US$80,750,000


Paul Gauguin (1848-1903). La Vauge.

Lot no.: 6

Painted: August- October, 1888

Size: 60.2 x 72.6cm


  • The artist; sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 23 February 1891, lot 28.

  • Jules Chavasse, Paris (acquired at the above sale).

  • Ambroise Vollard, Paris (probably acquired from the above, October 1897 and until at least 1908).

  • Galerie Druet, Paris (circa 1911).

  • (possibly) Paul Guillaume, Paris.

  • Alden Brooks, Paris (possibly acquired from the above, by 1934).

  • Filippa Brooks Veren, Big Sur, California (gift from the above); sale, Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., New York, 19 May 1966, lot 18.

  • Acquired at the above sale by the late owners.

Estimate: To be enquired

Hammered price: US$31,000,000

Price realised: US$35,187,500

Georges Seurat (1859-1891). La rade de Grandcamp (Le port de Grandcamp).

Lot no.: 18

Painted: Summer 1885

Size: 65.4 x 81.2 cm


  • Estate of the artist.

  • Ernestine Seurat, Paris (mother of the artist, by descent from the above, May 1891).

  • Emile Seurat, Paris (by descent from the above).

  • Josse and Gaston Bernheim, Paris (1904 and until at least 1925).

  • The Lefevre Gallery (Alex. Reid & Lefevre, Ltd)., London (by 1928).

  • M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., New York (acquired from the above, 1 January 1929).

  • Galerie Etienne Bignou, Paris (acquired from the above, 1 December 1934).

  • Grace "Ninette" Beatty, London (possibly acquired from the above, May 1936).

  • Sir Alfred Chester Beatty, Dublin (by descent from the above, 1952).

  • Paul Rosenberg & Co., New York (acquired from the above).

  • Acquired from the above by the late owners, April 1955.

Estimate: To be enquired

Hammered price: US$30,000,000

Price realised: US$34,062,500


Auction Summary

Auction house: Christie’s

Sale: '19th and 20th Century Art Evening Sale' - The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller

Sale date: 2018/5/8

Lots offered: 44

Sold by lots: 100%

Sale total: US$646,498,750