The Most Expensive Sculptures in History
In recent years, the auction world has seen a large number of lots overturn the ranking of the most expensive works in history. And even if it is from painting that the greatest number of records come, sculpture also plays its part. So let’s find out which are the most expensive sculptures in the world.
During the Renaissance, the figurative arts are at the center of a debate among intellectuals to determine which is the most “noble”. Painters believe that their task is clearly the most difficult because, unlike sculptors, they have to start from scratch. On the contrary, stone (or marble) is a pre-existing material and a work of nature in itself: the only thing the sculptors have to do is remove the excess matter and reveal the figure already present in the block.
One of the first arguments that trigger this debate is raised by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who claims before the French Academy that the painter learns by painting and can correct his work during the creative process. The sculptor, on the other hand, can only remain anchored to his original idea, since there is no possibility of rectifying it in fieri. The painting is therefore the result of a learning process, while the sculpture is an expression of what the artist has in mind even before starting to sculpt.
Bernini is a follower of both disciplines, and his arguments are mostly based on practice, since he carves his works directly into marble without ever experimenting – and thus depriving himself of the opportunity to learn.
In response, the sculptors retort that a statue is much more complex and a greater achievement, because being three-dimensional it must be beautiful from every angle. The painters themselves, on the other hand, only have to worry about a flat surface. In this sense, sculpture would require more rigor and skill, due to the limits imposed by the medium itself.
Today sculpture is an important part of the history of art and, like painting, it has experienced progress, revolutions and the arrival of great artists who, through this discipline, have reinvented their plastic language. Over the past 10 years, the largest auction houses have beaten sculptures that have not only shattered several artist records, but also climbed the ranks of the most expensive works of art in history.
Balloon Dog (Orange), Jeff Koons
In 2013, Christie’s presents Balloon Dog (Orange), a monumental sculpture in polished stainless steel by Jeff Koons. The famous dog comes from a series of five large sculptures in different colors. The work is acquired by a private collector for 58.4 million, making it the most expensive sculpture by a living artist in the world.
“Tête”, Amedeo Modigliani
This 73 cm tall stone sculpture ranks fifth in the top 10, after the 2014 Christie’s auction was worth $ 70.7 million. Most of Modigliani’s works are part of museum collections, and as confirmed by the auction house, this sculpture is the only one still in the hands of a private collector. In “Tête” we find all the characteristics that make the creations of the Italian artist so unique: the sculptural approach that recalls the virtuosity of the Italian Renaissance, the exoticism of African masks and the moais of Easter Island.
The Sophisticated Girl (Portrait of Nancy Cunard)
Constantin Brancusi returns with the sculpture that broke the artist’s personal record last May by becoming the fourth most expensive sculpture in the world. This polished bronze work dates back to 1932 and finds a buyer at Christie’s for $ 71 million. Brancusi’s main source of inspiration is the legendary Nancy Cunard, a poetess known as “The Mona Lisa of the 1920s”. This unconventional sculptural portrait features a multitude of contrasts: straight lines mingle with curves, smooth surfaces twirl, while curved shapes suddenly shrink. The artist wanted to capture Cunard’s elegant personality without resorting to traditional figurative language.
Chariot, Alberto Giacometti
We enter the top 3 with Chariot, a 145 cm work that goes on sale at Sotheby’s in 2014 and that the Pierre Matisse gallery in New York defines as one of Giacometti’s most important bronzes. The artist explained that the image of the chariot came to him in a dream: it is an automatic image generated by his unconscious based on a memory from 1938, when the artist is recovering from an accident at the hospital. Bichat. A vision that gave birth to the third most expensive sculpture in history, sold for 100.9 million dollars.
The Walking Man I, Alberto Giacometti
Executed in 1961, The Walking Man I is considered an icon of modern art. This life-size bronze sculpture was sold for 104.3 million dollars in 2010 during an auction organized by Sotheby’s, thus passing into the hands of Lily Safra, a Brazilian philanthropist. The slim figure is captured in full motion and appears as both a humble man and a powerful symbol of humanity. The statue also appeared on the 100 Swiss franc note, the sculptor’s country of origin.
L’Homme au doigt, Alberto Giacometti
The Swiss artist Giacometti, without too much surprise, also occupies the first place in this ranking. In May 2015, L’Homme au finger makes history and, after an offer of 141,285,000 dollars from Christie’s, shatters the artist’s record and becomes the most expensive sculpture in the world. This bronze from 1947, of a series of 6, represents a human figure who stands proudly, dominates the space and forces the public, with his gesture of trust, to look far away. Giacometti’s mission is to reinvent the very idea of sculpture, break conventions and find a very personal way to express his vision of reality.