A vibrant, multihued painting from Pablo Picasso has set a world record for an artwork at auction, selling for $179.4m in New York, while a piece by Alberto Giacometti set a record for the most expensive sculpture.

Picasso's "Women of Algiers [Version O]" and Giacometti's life-size "Pointing Man" were among dozens of masterpieces from the 20th century Christie's offered in a curated sale titled "Looking Forward to the Past".

The Picasso price, $179,365,000, and the Giacometti price, $141,285,000, included the auction house's premium. The buyers elected to remain anonymous.

Overall, 34 of 35 lots sold at Monday's auction for a total of $706m.

Experts say the prices were driven by the artworks' investment value and by wealthy collectors seeking out the very best works.

"I don't really see an end to it, unless interest rates drop sharply, which I don't see happening in the near future," Manhattan dealer Richard Feigen said.

Impressionist and modern artworks continue to corner the market because "they are beautiful, accessible and a proven value", added Sarah Lichtman, professor of design history and curatorial studies at The New School.

"I think we will continue to see the financiers seeking these works out as they would a blue chip company that pays reliable dividends for years to come," she said.

Skinny bronze

"Women of Algiers," once owned by American collectors Victor and Sally Ganz, was inspired by Picasso's fascination with the 19th-century French artist Eugene Delacroix.

It is part of a 15-work series Picasso created in 1954-55 designated with the letters A through to O. It has appeared in several major museum retrospectives of the Spanish artist.

The most expensive artwork sold at auction had been Francis Bacon's "Three Studies of Lucian Freud," which Christie's sold for $142.4m in 2013.

"Pointing Man," depicting a skinny 1.5 metre-high bronze figure with extended arms, has been in the same private collection for 45 years.

Giacometti, who died in 1966, made six casts of the work - four are in museums, and the others are in private hands and a foundation collection.

His "Walking Man I" had held the auction record for a sculpture. It sold for $104.3m in 2010.

Among other highlights at Christie's was Peter Doig's "Swamped," a 1990 painting of a canoe in a moonlit lagoon, which sold for slightly less than $26m, a record for the British artist.

Monet's "The Houses of Parliament, At Sunset," a lush painting of rich blues and magenta created in 1900-01, sold for $40.5m, in line with pre-sale estimates but well short of a record for the artist.

Christie's also had a Mark Rothko for sale. "No 36 [Black Stripe]", which had never appeared at auction, also sold for $40.5m, on par with predictions.

The 1958 work was sold by German collector Frieder Burda, who exhibited it in his museum in Baden-Baden for several years.

Last year, Christie's said its global sales of impressionist and modern art were $1.2bn, an increase of 19 percent over the previous year.

Source: Agencies