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Nude Green Leaves, and Bust, a 1932 painting by Pablo Picasso, sold for more than $100 million US at Christie's auction house. ((Christie's, New York/Assoicated Press))

A 1932 Pablo Picasso painting of his mistress has sold for $106.5 million US, a world record price for any work of art at auction.

Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, which had a pre-sale estimate of between $70 million and $90 million, was sold at Christie's auction house in New York on Tuesday evening to an unidentified telephone bidder.

There were nine minutes of bidding involving eight clients in the sale room and on the phone, Christie's said. At $88 million, two bidders remained. The final bid was $95 million, but the buyer's premium took the sale price to $106.5 million.

Conor Jordan, head of impressionist and modern art for Christie's New York, said he was "ecstatic with the results."

"Tonight's spectacular results showed the great confidence in the marketplace and the enthusiasm with which it welcomes top quality works," he said.

The striking work of Picasso's muse and mistress Marie-Therese Walter has been exhibited in the United States only once, in 1961 in Los Angeles to commemorate the 80th anniversary of Picasso's birth.

The painting, which measures more than 1.5 metres by 1.2 metres, shows a reclining nude figure with an image of Picasso in the background looking over her.

The painting had belonged to the late California art patron Frances Lasker Brody, who bought it in the 1950s. It had been kept in her family since then.

Part of the sale proceeds will benefit the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, Calif., where Brody was on the board.

The previous record for a work of art at auction was $104.3 million for Walking Man I, a sculpture by Alberto Giacometti sold on Feb. 3 at Sotheby's in London. The previous high price for a Picasso work was $104.2 million for Boy With a Pipe (The Young Apprentice), attained in 2004 at Sotheby's New York.

On Wednesday, another rarely seen Picasso is slated to sell at Sotheby's auction house. Woman in a Hat, Bust is a 1965 work inspired by Jacqueline Roque, the last love of Picasso's life. Its pre-sale estimate is $8 million to $12 million.

The work hung for 50 years in the Manhattan apartment of Patricia Kennedy Lawford, a sister of former U.S. president John F. Kennedy. It's being sold by her estate.