New York's autumn art sales got off to a weak start with a celebrated bronze sculpture by Degas, two important Picassos and a dreamy Matisse among works failing to sell at Christie's.
Only 51 of 82 lots sold, a total of 62 percent, possibly reflecting jitters among big collectors at a time of renewed anxiety over stock markets and the stability of the euro.
"Petite danseuse de quatorze ans," which shows a childlike ballerina with one foot extended, was meant to be one of the highlights of Christie's impressionist and modern sales, but failed to find a bid higher than $18.5 million and was withdrawn. It had a presale estimate of $25 to $35 million.
Two major Picasso paintings, which had also been billed as pillars of the auction, suffered the same fate.
"Femme endormie" and "Tete de femme au chapeau mauve," both estimated to sell at $12-18 million, passed without finding buyers.
Another disappointment was Matisse's "La robe violette," which had been estimated at $4-6 million, with Renoir's "La Lecon," estimated at $5-7 million, and Alberto Giacometti's bronze "Femme de Venise," estimated at $10-15 million, following suit.
There were bright spots. Bidding sent Picasso's "La femme qui pleure," estimated at $1.5-2.5 million, shooting up to a final sale of $5.12 million, a world record for a single print.
"The stolen Mirror," by surrealist Max Ernst, also saw a record for the artist, selling at $16.32 million, far above the $4-6 million pre-sale estimate.
"It was difficult. The market seems more sensitive and more selective than we thought," said Thomas Seydoux, Christie's director for impressionist and modern art.
On Wednesday, rival Sotheby's holds its impressionist sale. Next week both houses will hold sales of contemporary art.