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Art Buyers Unfazed by Falling Stocks—for Now

Monet's 1908 view of Venice. called "Le Palais Contarini," sold for $30.8 million at Sotheby's Thursday.
Monet's 1908 view of Venice. called "Le Palais Contarini," sold for $30.8 million at Sotheby's Thursday.

The art market appeared to be unfazed by the stock market's gyrations this week.

Sotheby's sold a total of $165 million in Impressionist and Modern art in London Thursday night, surpassing its top pre-sale estimate of $161 million.

The top seller for the auctions, which will continue next week with post-war and contemporary sales, was Monet's 1908 view of Venice. The piece, called "Le Palais Contarini," sold for $30.8 million after a three-way bidding war.

Sotheby's said the sale broke a record for the number of participants from Asia. "There was an extraordinary dynamic at play in the saleroom," said Helena Newman, chairman of Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern Art Department for Europe. "Established collectors—drawn out by the quality of the estate collections presented in the sale—competed with many of the new contenders in today's market."

A piece by Peit Mondrian, called "Composition with Red,Yellow and Blue," sold for $14.5 million. A work by Wassily Kandinsky, called "Study for Autumn Landscape with Boats," went for $9.9 million.

Next week's sales, however, may be the real test for how the art market fares under the decline in the financial markets. Thursday's London sale was wrapping up, when Ben Bernanke was giving his press conference. So the full impact of his comments may not have been baked into prices.

Global financial markets plunged Thursday after the Federal Reserve roiled Wall Street by saying it could reduce its aggressive economic stimulus program later this year. Manufacturing in China also slowed, adding to investor concerns.

"If stocks fall further, I think you could see an impact," said one art dealer in London. "Central banks have helped all assets, including art."