Sculpture: Top 10!



Friday is Top day! Every other Friday, Artprice publishes a theme-based auction ranking. This week, Artprice takes a look at the world’s 10 most expensive sculptures, works which celebrate modern art while simultaneously welcoming Jeff Koons with open arms.

Sculpture Top 10
Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Alberto GIACOMETTI $92,521,600 L’homme qui marche I (1960) 2010-02-03 Sotheby’s LONDRES
2 Alberto GIACOMETTI $90,000,000 Chariot (1950) 2014-11-04 Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY
3 Amedeo MODIGLIANI $63,000,000 Tête (1911/12) 2014-11-04 Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY
4 Jeff KOONS $52,000,000 Balloon Dog (Orange) (1994-2000) 2013-11-12 Christie’s NEW YORK NY
5 Alberto GIACOMETTI $47,500,000 Grande tête mince (1954) 2010-05-04 Christie’s NEW YORK NY
6 Amedeo MODIGLIANI $46,650,450 Tête (c.1910-1912) 2010-06-14 Christie’s PARIS
7 Alberto GIACOMETTI $44,500,000 Grande tête mince (grande tête de diego) (1954) 2013-11-06 Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY
8 Henri MATISSE $43,500,000 Nu de dos, 4 état (Back IV) (c.1930) 2010-11-03 Christie’s NEW YORK NY
9 Constantin BRANCUSI $33,350,200 Madame L.R. (c.1914/17) 2009-02-23 Christie’s Paris & Pierre Bergé PARIS
10 Jeff KOONS $30,000,000 Tulips (1995-2004) 2012-11-14 Christie’s NEW YORK NY
10 Jeff KOONS $30,000,000 Jim Beam – J.B. Turner Train (1986) 2014-05-13 Christie’s NEW YORK NY
copyright © 2015


Giacometti, the chosen one

Giacometti is to sculpture what Picasso is to painting – the darling of the art market. He claims four of the ten places in our ranking, including the top two spots, for works which sold for $92.5 million and $90 million respectively. The artist’s prices really took off 12 years ago when the sale of his estate was orchestrated by Christie’s Paris on 28 September 2002. 35 bronzes were up for sale, and works which had previously fallen short of the million-dollar mark now hurdled it with ease. The impeccable origin and sheer volume of the pieces offered at this session attracted museums and major collectors from around the globe. La Cage, first version (edition 3/8) was valued at $950,000 in 1999, but in 2002 it was to fetch more than $1.6 million. And that was just the beginning. The artist was swept along during the boom years of 2007-2008. Starting with a record price for L’Homme qui chavire, a bronze from 1947 which exceeded its high estimate by $10 million (sold for $16.5 million on 5 May 2007 at Christie’s New York), in 2008 another five of his works went under the hammer for more than $10 million. In 2010, he ranked alongside Picasso with the historic sale of L’Homme qui marche I, for the equivalent of $92.5 million (Sotheby’s, London, 3 February 2010). And 2014 proved to be the artist’s best year yet in terms of eight-figure sales. These numbered six in total, including the $90 million garnered by Le Chariot, one of the 20th century’s major works, sold on 4 November by Sotheby’s New York.

The $90 million realised by Le Chariot rather overshadowed the new record of $63 million set at the same sale by Amedeo Modigliani. Nevertheless, Modigliani’s Tête became the world’s third most expensive sculpture and posted the fifth highest sale price in 2014. Standing 73 centimetres tall, this is not a bronze but a sculpture carved directly in stone. Modigliani produced his sculptures in a few short years between 1910 and 1914. His output was limited by the fatigue he suffered as a result of tuberculosis and his excessive, dissolute lifestyle. He was soon forced to abandon this kind of work because the physical demands were too great. It is thought that he only produced twenty carved sculptures in his lifetime. These rare works proclaim a resolute modernity combined with the timeless quality seen in the goddesses of Antiquity. This Tête was completed two years after Modigliani’s pivotal meeting with Brancusi. The two artists discovered that they shared a love of simplified, elongated forms and direct carving.


From modernity to the Balloon Dog

Brancusi appears in the sale rooms even more rarely than Modigliani. His presence in our ranking is thanks to a sculpture in wood executed around 1914-1917. It unleashed a frenzy of bidding at the sale of the Yves Saint Laurent/Pierre Bergé collection in Paris in February 2009. Madame L.R. is one of the artist’s rare works to be sculpted in wood, most of which were created between 1913 and 1925. Some have been dismantled, reconstructed or destroyed and it is difficult to know precisely how many works of this type were produced. In Madame L.R. we see the influence of African statuary, a style which lay at the heart of some of the major innovations of the 20th century. Henri Matisse collected such statues and applied himself to creating stylised forms for his sculptures, which can attract higher prices than paintings. His highest price to date was set by a monumental bronze: Nu de dos, 4 état (Back IV) sold for $43.5 million at Christie’s in 2010. The Nus de dos series was produced between 1909 and 1930. These are some of Matisse’s most important works in terms of his unrelenting study of figures and the relationship between form and content.

No review of the world’s most expensive sculptures would be complete without mentioning Jeff Koons, the world’s most sought-after contemporary artist, the favourite of speculators in the first decade of this century and an artist who is supported by the market’s most powerful players. His Balloon Dog in orange, a huge sculpture measuring 3 x 4 metres, holds the world record for a contemporary work and takes fourth place in our ranking. Balloon Dog is also his most popular and prestigious creation. It sold for $52 million at Christie’s New York in November 2013, making Koons more expensive than Matisse and Brancusi.