Pablo Picasso, who mastered every medium and whose paintings have fetched some of the highest prices in history, recently took ownership of the sculpture category. A Picasso sculpture in bronze, Tête de Femme, Dora Maar from 1941, enjoyed top billing in last-November’s New York sales and fetched $26 million at Sotheby’s. It is one of Picasso’s finest achievements in sculpture, making Dora Maar, the artist's companion and muse and the subject of many Picasso paintings, one of the most coveted women in modern art.
This is the first time a Picasso sculpture has sold for more than $10 million, surpassing Henri Matisse, who’s record stood at $12.75 million for La serpentine - La femme à la Stèle - L'araignée, auctioned at Sotheby’s NY in May 2000.
Prices for sculpture have been rising faster than those of paintings in recent periods, with the price index for sculpture reaching a new high in 2007 - growth of 100% in 15 years. Critics speculate as to whose work may soon exceed Picasso’s record. Top picks include Matisse, Constantin Brancusi and Alberto Giocometti. Giacometti’s record is impressive, with 64 million-ticket adjudications, of which four are in the tens of millions. He has, however, never crossed the $20 million mark, peaking at $16.5 million for Homme qui chavire, a bronze which exists in six versions (Christie’s NY, May 2007).
Constantin Brancusi, on the other hand, has achieved more than $20 million for Oiseau dans l'espace in marble. It was estimated at between $8 million and $12 million when the bidding soared to $24.5 million in May 2005 (Christie’s NY). The piece combined two essential qualities enabling it to shatter the estimated range: it is emblematic of the work, since the artist focused on the bird theme for more than forty years, and it is a one-off piece as opposed to the numerous versions in bronze for which he is well known.
Rare one-off works are greatly sought-after. Amdedeo Modigliani’s Tête in stone was snapped up for £1.3 million last winter ($2.55 million, Sotheby's, February 2007) whereas most of his bronzes, which are edited in several versions, are accessible for between $30,000 and $80,000.
Cubist-influenced artists such as Henri Laurens, Julio Gonzalez, Alexander Archipenko and Jacques Lipchitz are reaching more moderate records ranging between $1 million and $3 million. The exceptional price appreciation of Julio Gonzalez, whose inventive iron sculptures were admired by Picasso, is worthy of note: his price index has risen by nearly 350% over the past decade.
Another metal sculptor, Pablo Gargallo, has never reached the million mark but did set a new record last October when a work of his doubled its high-end estimate, selling for €400,000 (more than $570,000) during the sale of the Alice Tériade collection in Paris.
Relief No.1 by Henry Moore, measuring just 13 cm, was acquired for $7,500 last May (William Doyle, NY). Salvador Dali pieces, cast during the artist’s life and edited in anything from 350 to 1,000 examples are highly sought after.