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There weren't too many shiny, happy people at Sotheby's last night as the auction house kicked off the spring season with works by Picasso, Giacometti, and Mondrian. Six months ago, back when it was already clear that the economy was headed downhill in a hurry, Sotheby's big seasonal auction had managed to offload $223 million worth of art. This year? The final tally for the 36 works that went under Tobias Meyer's hammer didn't even come close to Sotheby's already-low estimate, bringing in just $61.3 million. (Sotheby's had been hoping for $81.5 million). And some of the people most interested in getting high-priced art off their hands in a hurry—victims of Bernie Madoff, of course—walked away disappointed.

William Achenbaum, the owner of the Gansevoort chain of hotels and a Madoff investor, was reportedly the person selling Picasso's The Artist's Two-and-a-Half-Year-Old Daughter With a Boat. The canvas was expected to bring $16 million to $24 million, but didn't end up finding any takers. It didn't help Achenbaum's chances, say observers, that the hotel owner tried to sell the painting privately in the weeks leading up to the auction, and it's possible he also set his sights a bit high considering the state of the current art market. (Jerome Fisher, the founder of Nine West and another Madoff loser, will be hoping for a better outcome when his Picasso goes up for sale at Christie's tonight, presumably.)

But the news wasn't uniformly bad. A Mondrian painting from 1934 that had been estimated to bring in $3 million to $5 million, ended up going for $9.2 million, the highest price tag of the evening. The winner? An "unidentified bidder sitting in the back of the salesroom," who is now making arrangements to ship the painting to some far-off place that has been untouched by the financial meltdown, we presume.

Modern Masters Suffer at Auction [NYT]