LONDON - From the moment the first lot came under the hammer at 7pm last night there was a remarkable depth of bidding. The saleroom was packed for the Impressionist and Modern Art auction, and the results were tremendous: a total of £121 million was sold, the second highest ever in this field at Sotheby’s London. 85% of lots found buyers, many at prices above the high estimate. The star was the 1932 Picasso portrait of Marie Thérèse, which made £28 million ($45 million), a step up from the $41 million that a similar 1932 Picasso made in New York in November. There were great prices for the Impressionists, particularly the £8.7 million paid for a wonderful Monet snow scene from Lord Jersey’s collection (estimate £4–6 million) and the £7.7 million realised for a beautiful Degas pastel of a woman bathing (estimate £2.5–3.5 million).

Auctioneer Henry Wyndham at the rostrum with Picasso's portrait of Marie Thérèse.

As ever, much of the bidding was conducted by telephone, with rows of Sotheby’s people standing down the sides of the room connected to clients across the world and relaying their bids. The more successful the sale the longer bidding takes.

Sotheby's Helena Newman, Philip Hook and Melanie Clore.

Characteristically auctioneer Henry Wyndham handled the situation with both patience and humour, pausing politely to allow time for telephonic deliberations without losing the momentum of the sale. Just once the bidding was interrupted by the line with the buyer going dead. ‘He’s gone into a tunnel’ explained the Sotheby’s man fielding the call. ‘No problem,’ said Henry, ‘we can wait.’ But on this occasion it must have been the channel tunnel, because no contact was re-established. And after a decent length of time the hammer came down at what was another healthy price.