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Monet painting fetches a record $81.4 million at New York auction

"Meule," part of Monet's "Grainstack" series, has crushed pre-sale estimates at Christie's auction house in New York. With fewer masterpieces going on auction, works by revered painters have been fetching record prices.

A painting from Claude Monet's acclaimed "Grainstack" series sold for $81.4 million (77 million euros) at a New York auction on Wednesday, fetching a new record for the French impressionist.

The final price of the painting, entitled "Meule," smashed pre-sale estimates of $45 million, according to leading art business and auction house Christie's. The previous record price for a Monet work was set in June 2008, when "Bassin aux Nympheas" ("Water Lilles") took $80.4 million at an auction in London.

Painted in the winter of 1890-91, "Meule" depicts a single cone-shaped haystack in front of a shimmering twilight. Like the other 24 works that make up his "Grainstack" series, Monet painted it from his home in the French village of Giverny, Normandy.

Reports suggest that the auction lasted for almost 15 minutes, an unusual length of time for an auction of this format. A woman in the room had stayed in the running to buy for some time after submitting a final bid of $53 million. Ultimately, however, it was purchased by one of the telephone bidders.

"Meule" was one of the rare works in the series to still be in private hands. Most of the others hang in the Musee d'Orsay in Paris, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Chicago Art Institute.

Other highlights from Wednesday's auction saw a work by Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky fetch $23.3 million - also a record for the artist. "Rigid and Curved," painted in 1935, had not been on the market for more than 50 years.

Recently, prices for works by Monet and other acclaimed painters have skyrocketed. A recent report suggests that this may be because the amount of works by famed artists available for auction has been steadily declining. This supply problem means that the world's well-heeled are paying an even higher premium to get their hands on celebrated artists' works.

dm/msh (AP, AFP)

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