Giacometti Sculpture Smashes Auction World Record

An iconic sculpture by Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti smashed the world record for an art work sold at auction when it fetched £65 million (US$104.3 million) on Wednesday.

L’homme Qui Marche I a life-size bronze statue of a man, was expected to be go for up to £18 million at the London sale – but an anonymous telephone buyer paid out more than three times that amount.

The Sotheby’s auction house hailed an “exceptional” result after a dramatic bidding battle for the first statue from Giacometti’s walking man series of works to go on public sale for more than two decades.

The life-size bronze statue went for £65,001,250, which included the buyer’s premium, said the auction house.

L’homme Qui Marche I (Walking Man I) beat the previous record set by a Picasso painting, Garcon a la Pipe, which was bought for $104.2 million in New York in 2004, said Sotheby’s.

The 1961 metal figure, sold by a German banking firm, was cast by the artist himself, said Sotheby’s.

The auction house said Wednesday’s sale opened at £12 million, but after eight minutes of “fast and furious bidding” between at least 10 prospective purchasers, it went to the anonymous telephone bidder.

Georgina Adam, editor-at-large of The Art Newspaper, attended the auction and hailed the “astonishing” price paid for the “one in a lifetime opportunity.”

“There were so many bidders chasing to get it that even before it was put up for sale somebody had started bidding,” she told the BBC.

“I think there must have been 10 people bidding at the beginning. There was just this forest of hands going up, telephones ringing.”

Explaining the huge interest in the work, she said it came from a “very, very small group” of works.

“If something is a one in a lifetime opportunity, people will really step up to the plate and they will spend enormous amounts of money,” said Adam.

It is the latest example of a revival in art auction prices after they took a dive in 2008 as the global economic crisis devastated wealthy collectors.

At the same sale, Austrian artist Gustav Klimt’s Kirche in Cassone sold for £26,921,250, a new auction record for a landscape by the artist.

This painting, bought by an anonymous telephone bidder, was sold for well in excess of the top expected amount of £18 million.

“We are thrilled to have sold these great works… and that they have been recognised for the masterpieces that they are,” said Melanie Clore, co-chairman of Impressionist and Modern Art at the auction house.

“The competition which generated these exceptional results demonstrates the continued quest for quality that compels today’s collectors.”

Giacometti, who produced work from the 1920s until his death in 1966, is regarded as one of the leading surrealist sculptors of the 20th century.

L’homme Qui Marche I had formerly been part of the corporate collection of German bank Dresdner Bank AG, and passed into the collection of Commerzbank when the institution took over Dresdner last year.

The bank will use some of the proceeds from the sale to provide funds to partner museums for restoration work and educational programmes, said Sotheby’s.

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