Painting by French 'master of black' sets new world record

Man in black: French painter Pierre Soulages

A canvas by the French artist Pierre Soulages has sold for $10.5 million, a new world record for the "painter of black" who is about to celebrate his 100th birthday.

The work from 1960 of thick black stripes went for 9.6 million euros at an auction in Paris just days before the Louvre opens a huge retrospective celebrating Soulages' long career.

The prolific veteran, who turns 100 on Christmas Eve, and who is still painting, took the radical decision to paint almost entirely in black in the late 1970s.

Called "the world's greatest living artist" by former French president Francois Hollande, Soulages told AFP earlier this year that if he was not 100 percent happy with a painting "I burn the canvas outside. If it is mediocre, it goes," he added.

The painting sold by the Tajan auction house had been estimated to go for up to six millions.

But after a bidding battle that also involved Asian and American collectors, the work "will finally be added to a European collection", said Julie Ralli of Tajan.

Originally bought by James Johnson Sweeney, a former curator at New York's Museum of Modern Art and later director of the Guggenheim, it had stayed in his family since.

Sweeney's meeting with Soulages in 1948 was key to the artist's work being recognised in the US.

The Soulages show opens at the Louvre on December 11 and will run until March.