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Picasso, Monet and Cézanne lead the way in $400m New York art auction

Pablo Picasso’s Femme nue couchée, 1932 on view at Sotheby's in London
Pablo Picasso’s Femme nue couchée, on view at Sotheby's in London last month. Ten works sold for more than $10m each in an auction watched by nearly 20,000 people on Instagram. Photograph: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Sotheby's

Three paintings by titans of modern art have sold for a total of almost $166m (£134m) at auction, confirming the buoyancy of the global market.

In a sale of modern art at Sotheby’s in New York on Tuesday evening, a total of more than $408m was paid for works by artists including Picasso, Monet, Cézanne, Gauguin, Magritte, Dalí and Renoir.

Ten works sold for more than $10m each in an auction broadcast live on Instagram, attracting nearly 20,000 viewers.

Pablo Picasso’s Femme nue Couchée, a sensuous depiction of the artist’s muse and lover, Marie-Thérèse Walter, as a multi-limbed sea creature, went for $67.5m. It was one of the highest prices ever achieved for a portrait of Walter, whose relationship with Picasso began when she was 17.

Brooke Lampley, the chair and head of global fine art sales at Sotheby’s, said the 1932 painting was “a deeply lyrical ode to the artist’s unbound desire for Marie-Thérèse; with her fin-like, endlessly pliable limbs, the portrait continues to enchant as it perfectly captures Picasso’s muse as the ultimate expression of his genius”.

A further six works by Picasso were sold at the auction, including L’Étreinte, which depicts a man and a woman embracing in a bedroom, which went for $14.1m.

Claude Monet’s Le Grand Canal et Santa Maria della Salute
Claude Monet’s Le Grand Canal et Santa Maria della Salute sold for $56.6m. Photograph: Amer Ghazzal/Rex/Shutterstock

Claude Monet’s Le Grand Canal et Santa Maria della Salute, completed in 1908, became the most valuable view of Venice by the artist sold at auction when it fetched $56.6m. Another Monet, Les Arceaux de Roses, Giverny, sold for $23.3m.

After the auction, Lampley said: “The two titans of modern art – Pablo Picasso and Claude Monet – squared off tonight as the standard-bearers for the market … Both works showcased the artists at the height of their powers, with each representing a distinct moment of transformation that would play a pivotal role in defining their respective careers.”

Paul Cézanne’s Clairière (the Glade), which fetched $41.7m, was one of three classical impressionist paintings sold by the Toledo Museum of Art to establish an endowment to fund art acquisitions. The others were Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Nu s’essuyant and Henri Matisse’s Fleurs ou Fleurs Devant un Portrait.

A third of the works in the sale had not been offered at auction for at least 20 years. Sotheby’s said collectors in Asia were active in bidding, a hallmark of recent high-profile auctions.

Helena Newman, Sotheby’s worldwide head of impressionist and modern art, said the total sales from the auction – the third most valuable in the auction house’s history – were “testament to the enduring demand for classic impressionist and modern works from our global collectors.

“We saw strong prices across the board for works by the giants of modern art, from Monet and Cézanne through to Modigliani, Matisse, Picasso, Giacometti and de Kooning – a testament to the continued stature of this artistic period in the international market.”

This week, the second auction of modern and contemporary works from the collection of Harry and Linda Macklowe realised a total of $246.1m. The sale was ordered by a judge as part of the couple’s acrimonious divorce settlement.

The first tranche, which went under the hammer last November, sold for $676m, bringing the total for the collection to more than $922m.