Two exquisite modern sculptures sell for $221.7 million at auction in New York

Stone sculpture 'Tete' by artist Amedeo Modigliani was sold for US$70.7 million. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Stone sculpture 'Tete' by artist Amedeo Modigliani was sold for US$70.7 million. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (AFP) - Two masterpieces of modern sculpture sold for nearly US$172 million (S$221.7 million) at an auction in New York on Tuesday, a 1950 bronze by Alberto Giacometti for US$101 million and a Modigliani for US$70.7 million.

Auction house Sotheby's said the sculpture by Swiss artist Giacometti, "Chariot", is one of the seminal achievements of modern art. It depicts a goddess frozen in motion and was considered a beacon of hope for the post-World War generation. The identity of the buyer was not immediately known. The sculpture had been in the same private collection for four decades.

"Chariot" was the most expensive valued lot in a week of auctions at Sotheby's and rival Christie's, which began on Tuesday and last until Nov 12. It was the highlight of Sotheby's evening sale, which as a whole fetched more than US$422 million, the highest total for any auction in the house's history.

At the same sale, Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani's small sculpture "Tete" smashed pre-sale expectations by selling for US$70.7 million. Sotheby's said the price was an auction record for the artist.

"The market in the last 10 years or so has reappraised great sculpture," Mr Simon Shaw, Sotheby's co-head of impressionist and modern art, told reporters.

"To have the Modigliani and the Giacometti achieve those exceptional prices tonight is something we're delighted about."

The record price for a Giacometti work at auction is US$104.3 million, paid for "Homme qui marche I" at Sotheby's in 2010.

The Modigliani dates from 1911 to 1912, and is one in a series of rare sculptures carved from blocks of stone scavenged from construction sites across Paris.

It had been valued at US$45 million.

Sotheby's said competition was intense and appetite great in the market for ever dwindling impressionist and modern masterpieces of museum quality.

"Sculpture has risen and taken its due," said Mr David Norman, Sotheby's co-chairman of impressionist and modern art. "Today they're now rivalling the top prices for any art works," he said.

Of the paintings on offer, an Asian buyer snapped up Vincent van Gogh's "Still Life, Vase with Daisies and Poppies" for US$61.8 million, which surpassed its pre-sale estimate of US$30 million to US$50 million.

The artist painted it three months before his death. The price was an auction record for any still life by the artist, said Sotheby's.

Mr Shaw said Tuesday's bidders came from more than 40 countries. Interest was particularly strong from Europe and the United States, and there was "terrific activity" from Asia, he said.

Three works by legendary French impressionist Claude Monet from the same private American collection sold for US$61.9 million, led by the canvas "Alice Hoschede au jardin" which fetched US$33.77 million.

Monet was still "one of the hottest things" on the market, Mr Shaw said.

Christie's and Sotheby's are auctioning around US$1.7 billion worth of impressionist and modern, post-war and contemporary art over the next week.

The world record for the most expensive piece of art sold at auction was a Francis Bacon triptych - "Three Studies of Lucian Freud" - which sold for US$142.4 million at Christie's last year.

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