By Chris Michaud
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A celebrated 1881 portrait by French Impressionist Edouard Manet on Wednesday smashed the record for the artist when it sold for $65.1 million at Christie's, going far towards the auction house's solid total takings of $165.6 million.
"Le Printemps," an oil painting owned by the same family for a century, had been estimated to sell for as much as $35 million, but half a dozen bidders competing for the work, most of them via telephone, helped drive up the price.
The sale, including Christie's commission of just over 12 percent, nearly doubled the previous record of $33.2 million for a Manet, set in 2010 by "Self Portrait with a Palette."
The strong results were a testament to "the widespread interest in Impressionist and modern art," said Doug Woodham, president of Christie's Americas.
For a second consecutive night, collectors of increasingly rare Impressionist and modern trophy works spent heavily.
The auction was a far more modest affair than Tuesday's record sale at rival Sotheby's, which saw the highest auction total in its 270-year history, but managed to beat even the high pre-sale estimate of $157 million.
Christie's officials worked to keep estimates conservative, and the strategy paid off handsomely as more than half the offerings exceeded the high estimate. Four of 39 went unsold.
"The sale was overwhelmingly well-priced and tailored to today's tastes," said Brooke Lampley, head of Impressionist and modern art. "We had participation from every part of the world," she added, with strong representation from the United States, Europe and Asia. Four of the evening's 10 highest-priced works were bought by clients from Britain.
Among other highlights, Alberto Giacometti's "Stele III" sculpture fetched $9.9 million, well above the high estimate of $6.5 million, while Joan Miro's "Tuilerie a Mont-roig" sold for $8.7 million, against an estimate of $5 million to $8 million.
The lone significant casualty was Fernand Leger's "Les constructeurs avec arbre," which had been estimated to sell for $16 million to $22 million, but went unsold.
The fall auctions continue next week, when Sotheby's and Christie's hold their sales of post-war and contemporary art, a category marked by spiking prices which for years has eclipsed
the once-dominant Impressionist and modern arena.
(Editing by Clarence Fernandez)