NEW YORK (AP) _ An ink image of summer fields, sketched by Vincent van Gogh with a reed he cut from the banks of a French canal, sold at auction for $8.36 million - the highest price ever paid for a drawing.

''Garden of Flowers'' was sold Wednesday to an anonymous bidder at Christie's auction of modern and Impressionist art. The bid topped the auction house's pre-sale estimate of $5 million to $7 million.

The sale of the van Gogh came in the midst of what art experts say is a slumping art market.

The previous record for a drawing was for a Raphael sold at Christie's London in 1984 for $4.77 million.

Van Gogh drew the work in 1888 with a reed cut by the banks of one of the canals near Arles in the south of France. At the time, he needed to save money on the more expensive oil and canvas supplies.

In a letter to his brother, Theo, the artist wrote about the energetic ink strokes he used to draw a field and houses in Arles: ''I have just sent off three big drawings, and the little cottage done vertically is, I think, the best.''

The rest of Christie's auction Wednesday was further proof of the softening art market. Many of the finest works of the late 19th and early 20th centuries sold below the pre-sale estimates - or not at all.

One surprises was the failure to sell van Gogh's oil ''Vase with Cornflowers and Poppies,'' which was estimated to be worth $12 million to $16 million. The highest bid was about $9 million, below the minimum price.

''The grim reaper has taken his toll,'' said Christie's president Christopher Burge. ''Areas of the market that have been pushed to extraordinary heights have been eliminated. ... We're seeing speculators disappearing and other traditional collectors reappearing.''

The highest price of the evening was paid for Fernand Leger's oil ''Houses Beneath the Trees,'' which sold for $9.9 million to an unidentified American dealer. The estimated pre-sale price was $10 million to $12 million.

Of 47 works offered, 15 failed to sell because they didn't meet the confidential minimum price set before the auction. Of the 32 works that sold, 17 matched or surpassed the pre-sale price estimates, Christie's said.

The total sale for Wednesday night was $92.3 million.