“L’Odalisque, Harmonie Bleue,” a 1937 Matisse canvas depicting one of the artist’s favorite models lounging in a heavily patterned interior, went for $33.6 million at the Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art auction last night at Rockefeller Center.
Initially there were five bidders, but as the price climbed it finally came down to two — Guy Bennett, who runs Christie’s Impressionist and modern art department in New York, bidding on behalf of a client on the telephone, and Franck Giraud, a private dealer in Manhattan.
Mr. Giraud was glued to his cellphone, steadily raising his hand as Christopher Burge, the evening’s auctioneer, took bids in $500,000 increments. It seemed as though neither bidder would give in.
When the price hit $27 million ($7 million over the high estimate) with no end in sight, Mr. Burge jokingly said, “At some point I’m going to have to sell it.”
Mr. Bennett won out at $30 million ($33.6 million, including Christie’s buyer’s premium), a record price at auction for Matisse. The salesroom burst into applause. (Officials at Christie’s would not identify the buyer.)
The painting was coveted not simply for the arresting image but also for its provenance. Paul Rosenberg, the legendary French dealer who represented Picasso, Braque, Léger and Matisse, had acquired it directly from the artist, and the dealer’s heirs were selling it last night.
That triumphant sale, which came early in the evening, helped set a positive tone for what became a successful auction. Of the 91 lots up for sale, only 17 did not find buyers. The overall sales totaled $394.9 million, above the low $348.6 million estimate but well below the $487.4 million high.