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Versace's Picassos Sold

In an unusual auction, 25 Pablo Picasso works owned by murdered fashion designer Gianni Versace were sold off Tuesday at a standing-room-only sale.

Pablo Picasso's Young Girl with a Boat, featuring his eldest daughter Maya holding a model boat, sold for $5.98 million. The 1938 oil painting, bought by an anonymous telephone bidder, was the highlight of Sotheby's auction of drawings and oils by the Spanish artist.

Art lovers from around the world were lured to Sotheby's by the Picasso sale and a follow-up auction of impressionist paintings featuring Paul Cezanne's Bouilloire et fruits, stolen in the United States in 1978 and recovered this year.

The Cezanne still life -- a pewter pitcher and fruit painted at the height of the French impressionist's career -- surpassed the individual Picasso works in price. It fetched $29 million, also paid by an anonymous telephone bidder.

The high price tags came on the heels of Sotheby's impressionist and modernist art sale in New York in November, which took in $242.6 million dollars over two days.

"The market is very strong and people are prepared to pay top prices for highly collectable work," said Helena Newman, Sotheby's senior director and specialist in impressionist and modernist art.

For collectors, the Versace auction had the dual appeal of buying a Picasso work that was owned by a famous collector and designer, Newman said.

Versace was killed in 1997 at his Mediterranean-style palazzo in Miami Beach. He was shot twice in the head by suspected serial killer Andrew Cunanan, who later committed suicide.

The designer's art collection included five oils and 20 drawings from 1902 to the 1960s. His family sold the Picassos to trim an enormous estate, family spokesman Lou Colasuonno said.

Some of Picasso's work went for less than expected. Woman Sitting in a Chair, an oil portrait of his mistress Dora Maar, sold for only $5.28 million. It had been expected to fetch between $6.4 and $9.6 million.

For lovers of impressionist art, the Sotheby auction also offered a rare opportunity to view the long-missing Cezanne painting, which was stolen in 1978 from the Lenox, Mass., home of two pediatricians -- the late Harry Bakwin and his wife, Ruth.

The painting, circa 1888-90, was recovered in October after an insurer contacted the London-based Art Loss Register. Julian Radcliffe, chairman of the register, refused Tuesday to reveal who had the painting during the last two decades. Charges are not being filed in the case because the statute of limitations has expired, Radcliffe said.

Other highlights from Tuesday's sale included one Van Gogh work: The 1889 Oliviers avec les alpilles au fond, an ink drawing of olive trees, which brought $8.45 million.

Van Gogh's 1887 A Park In Spring was left unsold after failing to reach the minimum set price of between $4.8 and $6.4 million.