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Klein's blowtorch art nets £22.6m

A painting by French artist Yves Klein created with water, a blowtorch and two models has sold at a New York City auction for 36.4 million dollars (£22.6 million).

Christie's auction house said FC 1 set an auction record for the artist. The painting was sold to a buyer who wishes to remain anonymous, Christie's said.

The painting was completed a few weeks before the artist's death in 1962 at 34 and is considered to be his masterpiece. It was offered for sale by an anonymous Swiss collector.

The previous Klein record was for his MG 9, which sold for 23.5 million dollars (£14.5 million) at Sotheby's in 2008.

Klein invited the media to observe the creation of FC 1, which was videotaped and featured in a documentary on the artist, La Revolution Bleue.

It shows Klein dousing two models with water as they press their bodies against a fire-resistant board. As they step away, he points a blowtorch at the surface, and the moistened areas resist scorching.

The models then coat their bodies with paint and again press themselves against the flame-licked board, leaving impressions of their breasts and thighs. Klein then applies blue and splashes of pink pigment around the silhouettes.

The painting "embodies Klein's obsession with the irreconcilable concept of presence and absence, life and death", said Loic Gouzer, Christie's post-war and contemporary art specialist. It has been included in major museum retrospectives of the artist, including at the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC.

Among other highlights at the sale was Mark Rothko's Orange, Red, Yellow, which had been in the collection of the late philanthropist David Pincus of Philadelphia and for years was on loan at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It sold for 86.8 million dollars (£53.9 million), a record for the artist.

Christie's said it was the most important Rothko to come on the market since 2007 when White Centre (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose) from the David Rockefeller collection sold for 72.8 million dollars (£45.2 million), the previous record. Prices include the buyer's premium.

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