By Michael Roddy
LONDON (Reuters) - A Claude Monet painting of water lilies sold for almost 32 million pounds (US$55 million) at auction in London on Monday, the second highest price ever paid for the artist at auction and confirming the global hunt is still on for "trophy paintings", Sotheby's said.
The auction of 46 modern and impressionist works, of which four did not meet reserve prices, brought in just under 122 million pounds, Sotheby's said.
Helena Newman, co-chairman of Sotheby's impressionist and modern art department, said the result "was up there with the top end of the estimate".
She said buyers were especially interested in works from renowned private collections and had come from all over the world. "I don't have the full geographical breakdown yet but there was certainly very, very global participation tonight," she said.
The bidding for the Monet water lilies painted in a square format in 1906 went on for some 10 minutes, involving buyers from Asia, at the packed Sotheby's auction house in central London, Sotheby's said.
In its final stages the price went up by 250,000-pound increments until reaching the final all-in price of 31.722 million pounds.
The same work, which Sotheby's said had set a record for Monet water lilies in a square format, had been offered in 2010 and failed to reach its reserve price. Newman attributed the success of the sale this time to "the fact that the estimate seemed to be more realistic," although it was still a huge sum of money.
Asked what had driven buyers to fork out such large sums, Philip Hook, senior director of the impressionist and modern pictures department at Sotheby's, said, "The nympheas (water lilies) selling for such a huge sum is again a reflection that this is still a market that is driven by trophies, that the great works by the major masters are still really sought after."
The other top-priced painting was a Piet Mondrian 1927 "Composition with Red, Blue and Grey," which sold for 15.2 million pounds ($25.9 million), or somewhat less than the house's top estimate of 18 million pounds.
Most of the works on offer, which included paintings by Sisley, Picasso, Manet and Kandinsky, sold at close to the top end of the pre-auction estimates and sometimes above.
(Writing by Michael Roddy; Editing by Toni Reinhold)