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Christie's sale dazzles public with 33 centuries of masterpieces for four days

Art auction covering work from 13BC bronze items to Picasso, Klimt and Warhol expected to break world sale records

It is surely the shortest ever art exhibition to cover the longest period of history. For only four days, Christie's is showing some breathtakingly impressive examples of artistic achievement stretching over 33 centuries.

The show at the auction house's London headquarters is a once in a lifetime opportunity to see some amazing works, everything from 13BC bronze cooking vessels to some of the finest 13th century illuminated manuscripts to an important blue period Picasso. The exhibition ends at 4.30pm on Thursday because all the works are being sold – most of them this month and next.

Christie's European president, Jussi Pylkkanen, said the auction house had decided to put on a curated show of this year's highlights because the auction season was shaping up to be the strongest for a generation. "I can honestly say we've never had an exhibition of this quality in my 25 years here," he said.

Certainly, both Christie's and Sotheby's have persuaded sellers that 2010 is the year to sell. Pylkkanen said: "The art market is particularly firm at the moment, there is a flight to quality and we have what I would term 'medici collectors', who are keen to buy the very, very best irrespective of the categories in which they are being offered."

And the super-rich buyers are coming from far more parts of the world than ever before. Western European and American buyers are now joined by Russian oligarchs and secretive Asian and Middle Eastern millionaires – or billionaires – keen to create art collections.

There are high expectations that the auction record for a work of art will be set in next week's London auctions at Christie's and Sotheby's, after it was twice broken this year – first by a Giacometti Walking Man statue, and then by a Picasso in New York that sold for $106m (£70m).

The best bet to break the record is, arguably, a Picasso being sold for charity in aid of the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation. Portrait of Angel Fernández de Soto, or The Absinthe Drinker, is conservatively estimated at £30-£40m.

The Christie's show groups works thematically – "power", "patronage", "women in art". It is a free opportunity for the public – the majority of who probably can't quite stretch to the asking prices, at least not this year – to see jaw-dropping art.

In one room you can see a Chris Ofili next to a Gustav Klimt deathbed portrait of Ria Munk, who killed herself in dramatic fashion – she aimed a shotgun in to her chest – after she fell out with her lover. In another room is a Warhol Silver Liz – Elizabeth Taylor, that is – opposite a colourful Matisse nude unseen in public since the year after it was painted. And in another room is a heartstopping Monet waterlily painting, not far from a Van Gogh work executed while he was in voluntary confinement at the asylum of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole.

• Juxtaposed: Masterpieces Through the Ages is at Christie's in St James's until 8.30pm tomorrow, and then 9am-4.30pm on Wednesday and Thursday. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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