Le Sauvetage by Pablo Picasso is seen on display during a preview of Sotheby's impressionist and modern art evening sale in New York. Picture: Emmanuel Dunand

New York -

Pablo Picasso's 1932 oil painting Le Sauvetage sold at auction for more than $31 million on Wednesday after a bidding war at Sotheby's in New York which saw it surge past its estimated pre-sale price.

The surrealist master's enigmatic work - which was last sold a decade ago - went under the hammer for $31.525 million following frenzied bidding over several minutes.

The painting had been expected to fetch between $14 million and $18 million.

The painting was part of 14 Picasso works offered by Sotheby's as part of its auction of Impressionist and Modern Art.

In total, eight lots were sold for an aggregate $62.088 million

However one of the lots expected to generate most activity - Picasso's Tete De Marie-Therese (Head Of Marie-Therese), valued between $15 million and $20 million, failed to find a buyer.

Another important work La Seance Du Matin by French master Henri Matisse, sold for $19.205 million, just below its lower estimate of $20 million.

A canvas by French impressionist Claude Monet, Le Pont Japonais (The Japanese Bridge) meanwhile fetched $15.845 million, in line with its estimated range of between $12 million and $18 million.

Sotheby's reported total sales of just under $219 million. - Sapa-AFP