Pablo Picasso's "Woman Sitting Near a Window (Marie-Therese)" sold Thursday for $103.4 million at Christie's in New York, the auction house said.

The painting, completed in 1932, was sold after 19 minutes of bidding for $90 million, which rose to $103.4 million when fees and commissions were added, Christie's said.

Christie's had estimated the painting -- bought by an online bidder in California -- would sell for $55 million.

The sale confirms the vitality of the art market despite the Covid-19 pandemic -- but also the special status of Picasso, who was born in 1881 and died in 1973.

The generally good performance of Thursday's auctions, totalling $481 million, "signals a real return to normal and also a message that the art market is really back on track," said Bonnie Brennan, president of Christie's America.

The painting, depicting Picasso's young mistress and muse, Marie-Therese Walter, was acquired only eight years ago at a London sale for 28.6 million pounds (about $44.8 million), less than half the price offered Thursday.

Five works by the Spanish painter have now crossed the symbolic threshold of $100 million.

Even before this sale, he was already alone at the top of this very exclusive club with four paintings, including "Women of Algiers", which holds the record for a Picasso, at $179.4 million in 2015.

The painting 'Femme assise près d'une fenêtre (Marie-Thérèse)' is the fifth one by Pablo Picasso to sell for more than $100 million
The painting 'Femme assise près d'une fenêtre (Marie-Thérèse)' is the fifth one by Pablo Picasso to sell for more than $100 million AFP / DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS

"He was an artist, but he was also seven artists at the same time," said Giovanna Bertazzoni, vice-president of Christie's 20th and 21st centuries department.

She said Picasso's personal life, his aura and his love life still resonate today even though his work dates back more than 100 years.

"It's still incredibly contemporary and speaks to us," she said.

This is the first time in two years that a work has broken the $100 million mark since an 1890 Claude Monet "Meules" painting reached $110.7 million at Sotheby's, also in New York.

On Tuesday, the painting "In This Case" by the American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat sold for $93.1 million at Christie's in the first of the major spring sales, one of the two most important events in the auction world.

The year 1932, when Picasso painted "Woman Sitting Near a Window", is often considered the most productive period of his career and many major exhibits of his works have been devoted to that single year.

Women painters also fared well at the Christie's auction Wednesday with several works sold setting artist records.

"We saw incredible prices for female artists across the 20th century tonight," said Emily Kaplan, co-head of the 20th Century Evening Sale.

"Barbara Hepworth and Grace Hartigan achieved new records. Alice Neel, who is having a real market moment and an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, doubled her previous auction record."