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Understandably, however, some may ask why the record price for an artist who is regarded as one of the most important early 20th century sculptors is not higher.

The reason is simply that no example of the American-born artist's seminal pre-First World War casts has appeared on the open market in the last 30 years and almost all are now in public institutions.

However, this 5ft 6in (1.68m) bronze was the next best thing.

It was conceived in 1911 and was one of three works cast later in 1933. In all, between 1907 and 1917 Epstein produced 14 works that deal with the theme of pregnancy and birth.

Having been acquired by Sotheby's American vendor directly from Lady Epstein in 1963, it was also fresh to the market but, having been kept outdoors for some time, it required a minor wash and wax for the viewing.

Mother and Child Standing was one of five works by the artist at the sale on May 26 that came from the US and raised a total of £256,500.

The buyer's premium was 25/20/12 per cent.

By Alex Capon