May 15, 2018

A Brancusi sculpture sold for $71 million at Christie’s on Tuesday night, breaking the artist’s record.

Constantin  Brancusi, La  jeune  fille  sophistiquée  (Portrait  de  Nancy  Cunard), 1932. Courtesy of Christie's.

Constantin  Brancusi, La  jeune  fille  sophistiquée  (Portrait  de  Nancy  Cunard), 1932. Courtesy of Christie's.

A sculpture by Constantin Brancusi held in same collection for over 60 years achieved a new record for the artist on Tuesday night when it sold for $71 million with fees at Christie’s. The hammer price for La Jeune fille sophistiquée (Portrait de Nancy Cunard) (1928/1932), a small bronze sculpture set on a marble base, was $63 million, below the work’s pre-sale estimate of $70 million. The price bested the Brancusi record set last year at Christie’s when a five-bidder battle pushed a bronze head by the artistwell past its $35 million high estimate to a final total of $57.4 million, with fees. The winning bidder on tonight’s lot was a client on the phone with Loic Gouzer, Christie’s co-chairman of postwar and contemporary art.

With the fall of auctioneer Adrien Meyer’s gavel, the work also became the fourth most expensive sculpture ever sold at auction, but just by a hair: a sculpture of a head by Amedeo Modigliani sold at Sotheby’s New York in November 2014 for $70,725,000 million, just $275,000 less than the Brancusi. (Modiliani’s painting Nu couché (sur le côté gauche) (1917) sold at Sotheby’s on Monday night for $157.2 million, including fees.)

Bidding on the Brancusi opened at $50 million, and Meyer issued chandelier bids of $52 million and $54 million, at which point deputy chairman Maria Los came in at $56 million. Meyer had another bid of $58 million, and then after some gesturing to the auctioneer Gouzer was permitted to bid just $1 million more, to $59 million. At that point a bidder in the center of the room came in at $60 million, causing heads to swivel backward. Gouzer beat him back with a leap to a $63 million, silencing the in-room bidder and securing the work for his client.

The statue was bought from the artist by American collectors Elizabeth and Frederick Stafford for just $5,000 in 1955 ($46,733, when adjusted for inflation). It depicts the shipping heiress Nancy Cunard, a stylish and outspoken presence on the Paris scene, who acted as a muse to Ezra Pound and Samuel Beckett and became a civil rights and anti-fascist activist. The Stafford descendants will donate the proceeds of the sale to charity.