Giacometti Sculpture Could Break $100 Million at Sotheby’s

Alberto Giacometti, Chariot, conceived in 1950 and cast in 1951–52. Courtesy Sotheby's.

As auction houses gear up for the major fall sales, news of several blockbuster consignments is starting to trickle out. Following the revelation from Sotheby’s last week that it has secured a rare Vincent van Gogh still life that is expected to sell for between $30–50 million, the house has revealed it will offer two extremely rare and iconic sculptures—by Amedeo Modigliani and Alberto Giacometti—that have never appeared at auction before and will undoubtedly be among the leading lots at the November 4 evening sale of Impressionist and modern art.

Giacometti’s Chariot (conceived and cast in 1950) is a unique painted cast depicting a goddess perched  atop a chariot with large wheels. According to Sotheby’s, it is one of only two examples that remain in private hands and has been in the same private collection for over four decades. It will be the first Chariot to appear at auction in more than 30 years. Though Sotheby’s has not released a firm estimate, Simon Shaw cited the $104.3 million price achieved for Homme qui marche I in 2010, and said: “we believe that Chariot could sell for in excess of $100 million.”

In 1947, Giacometti told his dealer Pierre Matisse: “I saw the sculpture before me as if already done.” In addition to Surrealism, the artist was also inspired by antiquity, including an Egyptian chariot he had seen at the Archeological Museum in Florence. Six casts of Chariot were made during the artist’s lifetime, according to Sotheby’s. Giacometti embellished the patina of certain bronzes by painting directly on the sculpture’s surface. The cast for sale is one of only two painted examples.

Property from a Private European Collection Amedeo Modigliani Tête Stone Height: 28¾ in.; 73 cm Carved 1911-12. Estimate in excess of $45 million Photo: Courtesy Sotheby's

Amedeo Modigliani, Tête (carved 1911–12 ) is estimated “in excess of $45 million.”
Photo: Courtesy Sotheby’s.

The other major sculpture on the block that same evening will be Modigliani’s carved stone Tête (1911–12), which carries an unpublished estimate “in excess of $45 million.” The current record for a sculpture by Modigliani, which come on the market far less frequently than his paintings, is $52.6 million. That price was achieved at Christie’s Paris in 2010, while the auction high for a painting is $68.9 million and was set at Sotheby’s New York, also in 2010. According to Sotheby’s, the majority of the artist’s sculptures are in museum collections, with very few examples remaining in private hands.

Due to a lack of money and difficulty in obtaining material, Modigliani was unable to pursue sculpture to the extent he would have liked, experts say. Tête was created from a single block of limestone known as pierre d’Euville, which was quarried in a small town in eastern France. The artist scavenged the material from construction sites around Paris, ferrying it back to the studio he shared with fellow artist Constantin Brancusi in a wheelbarrow. Brancusi reportedly helped out by giving Modigliani instructions for carving.

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