Picasso painting sells for record $179.4m at auction

A PICASSO masterpiece painted in tribute to his late friend and rival Henry Matisse  - a highlight of the Picasso exhibition at Tate in 2012 - has just become the world's most expensive painting sold at auction fetching $179.4 million.

Les femmes d'Alger (version O), went under the hammer in New York on Monday night,  and is acknowledged by experts to be one of the Spanish artists' most impressive paintings still in a private collection.

It is the last and most celebrated of 15 variations of Les femmes d'Alger, which Picasso began in 1954 following Matisse's death, taking inspiration from Eugene Delacroix.

The previous record of $142 million paid for at a 2013 auction was a Francis Bacon triptych.

The art market is currently feverishly buoyant with last week's $368 million Sotheby's spring sale exceeding estimates by tens of millions and a van Gogh selling for more then $20 million its predicted worth.

The 1881 van Gogh, L'allée Des Alyscamps, of the Roman necropolis in Arles, France fetched $66.3 million at auction in New York after five bidders competed to acquire the work pushing it well above its $40 million guide price.

Other artworks are believed to have exchanged for more than $142 million on the private market, but details are sketchy and buyers are loathe to expose their investments to the glare of publicity unnecessarily.

Last week's Sotheby's sale was fuelled by bidding wars and high net worth buyers from Asia. Purchasers of artworks under these circumstances usually remain anonymous.

Previously, the most expensive Picasso sold at auction was Nude, Green Leaves and Bust which sold at Christie's in 2010 for $106.5 million.