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Hirst took the title on Thursday when Sotheby's sold his "Lullaby Spring" pill cabinet for 9.6 milli

June 22, 2007

CORRECTED: Hirst Most Expensive Living Artist In Record Week

Filed at 10:28 a.m. ET

(Corrects details of Johns' tenure as most expensive living artist at auction in first and fourth paragraphs, and removes reference to Johns' "False Start" in paragraph three)

By Jeremy Lovell

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's Damien Hirst has been crowned the world's most expensive living artist at auction, lifting a title held for years by America's Jasper Johns.

It was the high point of a frenetic week of London art auctions that saw records tumbling like ninepins and which is likely to get close to $1 billion when it ends later on Friday.

Hirst took the title on Thursday when Sotheby's sold his "Lullaby Spring" pill cabinet for 9.6 million pounds ($19.1 million).

Johns has held the title off and on since the mid-1980s, swapping in November 1989 with Willem de Kooning who held it until his death in 1997.

The Hirst sale was just 24 hours after Lucian Freud's portrait of "Bruce Bernard" sold at Christie's for 7.9 million pounds briefly making him the most expensive living European artist.

"This was the highest totaling week of sales London has ever seen -- confirming beyond all doubt London's rapid ascent as a central hub in the art market," said Robin Woodhead, chief executive of Sotheby's International.

"Bidding across the sales was truly global. New buyers locked horns with long-time collectors in a bid to secure top masterpieces," he added.

Christie's, which kicked off the week on Monday with the highest auction total ever in Europe at 121 million pounds, said its auctions set records for 23 artists including Joan Miro and Freud -- whose portrait price remains a personal record.

Arch rival Sotheby's, which claimed the most expensive work during the week when Francis Bacon's "Self Portrait, 1978" sold for 21.6 million pounds, also set a series of records for artists including Henri Matisse, Tracey Emin and Frank Auerbach.

Matisse's "Danseuse dans le fauteuil, sol en damier" sold for 11 million pounds -- towards the higher end of its presale estimate of 8-12 million pounds -- raising the record price by just under one million pounds.

Both auction houses reported strong interest from Asia, Russia, Britain and the United States and described the London art market as "very healthy."

"This is a very different place from the boom days of the late 1980s. There is great strength and depth in this marketplace and it promises to be another record year for the London art market," said Jussi Pylkkanen, president of Christie's Europe.

It was not just the contemporary and modern works that attracted keen bidding. The week began with both auction houses offering top quality works by Claude Monet.

On Monday Christie's grabbed the number two Monet spot when the Impressionist Grand Master's "Waterloo Bridge, temps couvert" dating from 1904 sold for 17.9 million pounds.

But a day later Sotheby's nudged it down to number three when Monet's "Nympheas" picture of waterlilies in his garden at Giverny, from the same year, sold for 18.5 million pounds.

The auction record for the artist is 19.8 million pounds paid for "Bassin aux nympheas et sentier au bord de l'eau" in 1998.

Christie's said its sales of Impressionist, Modern, Post-War and Contemporary art during the week totaled 237 million pounds.

As of Friday morning and with sales still to go estimated to make around 20 million pounds more, Sotheby's said its auction total so far for Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary works during the week totaled 178 million pounds.

Auction house Phillips de Pury's Contemporary art sale, also on Friday, is expected to bring in around 20 million pounds.

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