A monumental cast of La nuit by Aristide Maillol (1861-1944) raced away from its estimate of $15,000-$25,000 to hammer for $470,000 (£377,000) at Rago (26/20% buyer’s premium) in Lambertville, New Jersey, on November 10.
This work is number five from the posthumous socle mobile edition of six produced by Paris bronze founder Emile Godard.
La nuit is among the best-known and admired of Maillol’s sculptures. He began working on the composition in 1902 – the year he held his first one-man show with dealer Ambroise Vollard – taking his artistic inspiration from Michelangelo and emotional inspiration from the ill treatment of Emile Zola during the so-called Dreyfus Affair.
He made several refinements following his return from Greece to view sculpture of the archaic period and first exhibited the newly finished limestone at the 1909 Salon d’Automne.
It was placed middle of the rotunda of the Grand Palais where Rodin, elder statesman of French sculpture, had planned to display one of his own works. When he saw Maillol’s larger-than-life figure of a crouching woman he was happy to give the prime spot to his younger colleague. The original is in the Kunstmuseum in Winterthur, Switzerland.
Casts of Maillol bronzes were made in various sizes across the 20th century, most of them for Vollard who had an agreement that gave him complete rights over reproduction. He typically used the Florentin Godard (1877-1956) sand-casting foundry. Casts such as this – it measures 3ft 10in (1.17m) high – were done by his nephew Emile Godard (1911-71) between 1956-71.
The price was way above expectations but there are others from this Emile Godard edition that have made much more. Number 1/6 sold at Christie’s New York in November 2007 for $1.8m while number 4/6 took £1.2m at Christie’s in London in February 2013.
A slightly smaller (3ft 4in (1.01m) cast of La nuit was produced by the Georges Rudier foundry in c.1944, the year of Maillol’s death. Also made in an edition of six, examples of this version have brought similar seven-figure sums at auction.
Bridges new high
Rago’s American and European Art sale had another outstanding performer in a watercolour by Fidelia Bridges (1834-1923).
Estimated at $2000-3000, it made $90,000, a new record for the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts artist.
Dated 1907 and measuring just under 9 x 14in (22 x 35cm), A Cottage Garden was probably painted in Canaan, Connecticut, where Bridges lived in a hillside cottage from 1892. The flower garden she created there became the subject of many paintings.
This particularly successful composition betrays her debt to the Pre-Raphaelite movement and her mentor William Trost Richards who had received this particular work as a gift.
It had left his family in 1988 and came for sale from a private Pennsylvania collection.
Bridges is one of a number of women artists who, once neglected by academia and the marketplace, are now receiving due consideration.
A pioneer in her time, she was elected as a National Academy of Design associate in 1873 and one year later became the only woman of seven artists in the American Society of Painters in Watercolor (now The American Watercolor Society).
According to Artprice, the previous auction high for Bridges was the oil on canvas board Small Bird with Flowering Ironweed sold for $74,500 at Doyle New York in November 2021.