Paloma Picasso, the artist's daughter who an hour earlier had waited patiently for standing room, left the sales rooms of Sotheby Parke Bernet with her face wreathed in smiles.A canvas by her father -- "Seated Acrobat With Folded Arms" of 1923 -- had just become the most expensive picture ever sold at auction in the United States, fetching $3 million.
Last night's auction, the first of this week's two so-called "car sales," fetched a total of $14,835,500, a record for an auction of impressionist and modern pictures. The 40 lots offered were from the collection of the late Col. Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch. She was the second daughter of car tycoon Walter T. Chrysler. Tonight, at Christie's, 10 paintings owned by Henry Ford II will go up on the block. If prices hold, they may fetch more than $10 million.
It took just three minutes for the Picasso's price to reach 680,100,000 yen. The figure appeared on the computerized currency converter above the head of auctioneer John Marion as the canvas was sold to the Bridgestone Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo, a privately endowed institution founded by tire manufacturer Shojiro Ishibashi, who began buying impressionist pictures in Paris in the 19th century.
"Pas mal, pas mal" said Paloma Picasso. "Not bad."
Princess Lee Radziwill, director Mike Nichols and soprano Beverly Sills also were on hand when the hammer fell for the Picasso. The well-heeled audience broke into applause.
The Picasso had been owned by Averel Harriman and pianist Vladimir Horowitz before the Garbisches acquired it.
More than 1,000 New Yorkers, most of them with money in their voices, crowded the Madison Avenue entrance of Sotheby's last night more than half an hour before the sale began. The most privileged were admitted to the main sales room where they filled every seat and squeezed against the walls while, one by one, the pictures to be sold rotated into view on a curtained stage. Those less lucky watched slides of the Garbisch pictures in an equally crowded secondary sales room nearby.
Though auction records for works by Van Gogh ($1.8 million for an 1890 portrait of "Adeline Ravoux" which went to an American private collector), Gauguin ($1.8 million for "Tahitian Women Under the Palms" of 1891 which was bought by a private collector in Argentina) and Renoir ($1 million for "Women in an Oriental Costume," a portrait which was sold in 1916 by the artist for only 1,500 francs) were set last night, Picasso clearly was the star of the show.
"Pablo Picasso: A Retrospective," the 1,000-item exhibition which opens May 22 at the nearby Museum of Modern Art will be previewed this morning by crowds of art writers who helped pack the sales room last night.
Though some observers had prophesied that last night's sale would mark the beginning of an art market recession, the prices, which included a record $490,000 for a pointillist Signac of 1892, did not justify their fears. The Picasso price surpassed the $2.5 million set by "The Iceberg" of Frederic Edwin Church last October.
Like Henry Ford Ii, whose pictures will be sold today, the Garbisches, who died last December within hours of each other only a few weeks before what would have been their 50th wedding anniversary, began to buy their impressionist pictures after World War II. Many of their American Naive paintings have been left to the National Gallery of Art. The contents of "Pokety," their Cambridge, Md., home, will be sold on the premises on May 22-25.