By Chris Michaud
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The spring art sales ended with a bit of a whimper in New York on Thursday at Christie's' muted auction of Impressionist and modern art.
The sales took in $141.4 million against a pre-sale estimate of $134 million to $197 million for the 51 lots on offer. All but seven found buyers.
Christie's officials declared themselves pleased with the result, saying they had tailored the sale to the tastes of the current market and that bidding from across the globe, particularly Asia, helped drive bidding.
After years of soaring prices, both Christie's and rival Sotheby's assembled markedly smaller sales this season, with no works carrying estimates much beyond $40 million. In recent seasons several works have broken the $100 million mark.
"This was a sale that took place against a backdrop of some uncertainty," said Jussi Pylkkanen, Christie's' global president. "The proof was in the pudding," he added, in light of the sale making its estimate and even setting some records.
Emblematic of the results' mixed signals vis-a-vis a seemingly flagging market was Frida Kahlo's "Dos desnudos en el bosque (La tierra misma)," which set a record for both Kahlo and any Latin American artist when it fetched $8 million.
But the price barely made the low estimate. The work had been expected to sell for as much as $12 million.
Similarly, the top-priced lots, Monet's "Le bassin aux nymphaes" and Modigliani's "La Jeune femme a la rose" each barely made their low estimate. The Monet water lillies sold for $27 million while the Modigliani portrait made $12.8 million.
Strong prices were achieved by George Braque's "Mandoline a la partition" and Barbara Hepworth's "Sculpture with Colour" which soared to nearly four times its estimate, fetching $5.4 million. The Braque sold for $10.2 million.
Officials at both Christie's and Sotheby's said the New York results, which were far stronger for both houses for contemporary and post-war art, will be looked at closely as they assemble their upcoming London sales next month.
(Editing by Nick Macfie)