IF the price paid for Alberto Giacometti's (1901-1966) sculpture L'Homme qui Marche I is anything to go by, then the art market is now striding out of recession. Selling for £58m (plus premium) at Sotheby's evening sale on February 3, it became the most expensive object ever sold at auction.
But what was so special about it?
While prices for the Swiss sculptor rose strongly during the
decade-long art market boom which finally crashed in October 2008,
this bronze was different from anything that had been offered
L'Homme qui Marche is considered Giacometti's most
iconic figure - the first time he experimented with the theme of
the walking man on a monumental scale.
But, crucially, this 6ft (1.83m) high bronze was a lifetime cast
and represented a buying opportunity that may never come again.
It is one of only six casts made by the sculptor in 1961. Three
others are in public collections and the other two are said to be
unlikely to appear on the market in the foreseeable future.
The record-breaking sculpture came to Sotheby's from the
Dresdner Bank in Germany, which is selling or loaning out 100 works
from its corporate collection as part of a "general reorganisation
of the company".
Yet, even if most people expected it to set a substantial new
artist's record for Giacometti, it is difficult to believe that
there was anyone present that night who was not staggered by the
final £58m hammer price.
With the estimate at £12m-18m, the most optimistic prediction
flying around in the packed saleroom beforehand was around £40m -
which in any case would have been a huge jump from the previous
Giacometti high of $24.5m (£12.4m) seen for Grande Femme Debout
II, sold to the Gagosian Gallery at Christie's New York in May
However, even before the chairman of Sotheby's Europe, Henry
Wyndham, opened the bidding at £12m, someone in the room tried to
jump in early, eager to take first dibs.
When bidding formally opened, a telephone bidder immediately
came it at £15m, before the price was taken up and up in increments
of either £1m or £2m, with four bidders in the room and at least
four on the telephone competing for the 6ft (1.83m) high
It came down to a battle between two telephones, before finally
selling to an anonymous buyer bidding through Sotheby's senior
director of Impressionist and Modern art Europe, Philip Hook.
After a full eight minutes, the falling hammer was greeted with
a round of applause in the saleroom.
The price meant that the lifetime bronze cast in 1961 became the
most expensive object ever to sell at auction. It just pipped Pablo
Picasso's (1881-1973) rose period Garçon à la Pipe, which
sold for $93m (then £54.7m) at Sotheby's New York in May 2004.
Sotheby's now hold seven of the top ten auction prices (see
table below) and the Giacometti became the first sculpture to sit
at the top of the all-time high prices table since records
Sotheby's buyer's premium is 25/20/12%.
By Alex Capon
for a list of the top all-time prices for art.