The world record for any art sold at auction is held by another Picasso, Boy With a Pipe, which Sotheby's sold two years ago for $104 million. The second-highest price before Wednesday was van Gogh's Portrait of Dr Gachet at $82.5 million, which sold in 1990.

The vibrant, large-scale work depicts Maar, the surrealist photographer with whom Picasso was romantically involved  for a decade, seated in a chair with a small cat perched on the back.

It had been expected to sell for $40 million or more, but the winning bid of $95,216,000  on Wednesday, including commission, caught even Sotheby's officials by surprise.

The winning bid was $95,216,000,
including commission

David Norman, Sotheby's co-chair of impressionist and modern art, said after the sale: "I was hoping for 70-plus. We thought it was worth more, and we were right."

Even Tobias Meyer, the usually unflappable auctioneer, admitted that he was surprised when the bidding passed $65 million.

"The energy in the room was incredible," he said. "There's just a very clear, strong demand for the kind of intense painting with an emotional pull that the Picasso represents; things that are made for our times."

The auction of impressionist and modern art brought in more than $207 million, it's third-highest sales figure to date, Sotheby's said.