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Masterpieces under the gavel

Detail from Le bassin aux nymphéas by Claude Monet
Source: CHRISTIE'S IMAGES LTD. 2016
Detail from Le bassin aux nymphéas by Claude Monet

Fifteen hundred rare works of art go under the gavel this week at the big New York auction houses, including rare masterpieces by some of the defining artists of the 20th century.

Christie's, Sotheby's and Phillips expect to sell $890 million to $1 billion in art this week at their annual Spring auctions.

Last May, Christie's brought in $1.4 billion, while Sotheby's totaled $892 million.

Brooke Lampley, head of Impressionist and modern art at Christie's, told CNBC's "Power Lunch" on Tuesday why the quality of the 2016 Spring market does quite have the marquee names as last year.

"Not having a work over the $100 million mark this year has made it a more selective selling season. Nonetheless there are great works for sale, like Picasso's Homme assis which carries a pre-sale estimate of $12 million, painted in 1969. His late works are incredibly popular now."

Another seminal canvas for sale is Claude Monet's Le bassin aux nymphéas, part of the artist's famed Water Lilies series of 250 oil paintings of his flower garden in Giverny, France. Completed in 1919, this work is among the most celebrated and recognized works of his career. The work is expected to sell in excess of $35 million this week.

"Buyers want brands, particularly new buyers and global buyers. Water Lilies is a prime example of an emblem of his entire practice," said Lampley. "It was a way for him to continually explore how light and water change over the course of the day. You look at this painting and it is clearly a precursor to abstract impressionism and modern art."

Another standout is Frida Kahlo's Dos desnudos en el bosque. Completed in 1939, it is the first time this painting will appear in a public auction since 2006 and is expected to fetch between $8 million to $12 million.

A detail from Dos desnudos en el bosque (La tierra misma) by Frida Kahlo
Source: CHRISTIE'S IMAGES LTD. 2016
A detail from Dos desnudos en el bosque (La tierra misma) by Frida Kahlo