By Michael Roddy
LONDON (Reuters) - A Gustav Klimt portrait of a young woman that had been the subject of an ownership dispute fetched the highest price of 24.8 million pounds ($39.1 million) in an auction at Sotheby's in London on Wednesday evening.
Sales at the auction topped 178.6 million pounds, with 10 of the 51 lots on offer selling for more than 10 million pounds.
Among them was an Edgar Degas cast bronze of a ballerina that sold for 15.8 million pounds, above its top estimate of 15 million pounds, setting an auction record for a sculpture by the French artist, Sotheby's said.
The Sotheby's auction eclipsed the 71.88 million pounds that arch-rival Christie's tallied at its auction of Impressionist and Modernist works the evening before and underscored the strength in the market.
Two weeks of sales in New York in May brought in well over $2 billion at both houses.
"To follow our highest totals for Impressionist and Modern Art sales in New York, with another sensational sale in London, emphasizes the strength of what is undoubtedly a truly global market," Melanie Clore, Chairman, Sotheby’s Europe & Co-Chairman Worldwide, Impressionist & Modern Art, said in a statement.
Klimt’s “Portrait of Gertrud Loew — Gertha Felsovanyi” from 1902 was recently restituted to the heirs of the Viennese woman who sat for the portrait, which was left in the Austrian capital when its Jewish owners fled the city as the Nazis rose to power.
It was the subject of what Sotheby's said was a 10-minute bidding battle in which the price went up slowly by 100,000-pound increments, but eventually reached the second highest price for a portrait by the artist at auction.
Also sold was the first work to come to auction from the collection of Cornelius Gurlitt, the son of a Nazi-era art dealer whose vast secret hoard of paintings - including items looted by the Nazis - was discovered in Munich in 2012.
Max Lieberman’s "Zwei Reiter am Strand nach links" (Two Riders on a Beach) sold for 1.87 million pounds, or more than triple the top pre-auction estimate of 550,000 pounds.
Other star pieces at the auction included Manet's "Le Bar aux Folies-Bergere" which sold near the low end of estimates at 16.4 million pounds, and Kazimir Malevich's "Suprematism, 18th Construction" which sold for 21.4 million pounds, also just above the low end of its estimate of 20-30 million pounds.
(Writing by Michael Roddy; Editing by Tom Heneghan)