Until October 27, auction house Sotheby’s will be accepting confidential offers for “Grande femme I,” a 9-foot-tall bronze of a spindly woman. And with a starting price of $90 million, the so-called “sealed-bid” sale could fetch one of the largest sums ever paid for a sculpture.
The Swiss artist cast the bronze artwork in 1960, six years before his death. It was part of a larger series of sculptures meant to form a major public installation in New York City, though the outdoor display was never realized. “Grande femme I” embodies Giacometti’s late-career style, which he developed after World War II: elongated, textured figures that appear fragile, but heavy with psychological implications.
Sotheby’s is requiring minimum bids of at least $90 million for “Grande femme I,” but the final sale price will remain a secret. Credit: Courtesy of Sotheby’s
Sotheby’s said that its general counsel will review the bids alongside an outside auditor the day after bidding closes. The bidder making the highest offer will claim the sculpture, though the buyer’s identity and the final sale price will not be revealed by the auction house.
“The hybrid format of this sale provides the opportunity to promote a rare masterpiece with worldwide appeal, but retain the discretion of a private sale, which is especially important to clients when buying at this value point,” said Brooke Lampley, vice chairman of Sotheby’s global fine art division, over email.
“L’homme au doigt” broke the record for the most expensive sculpture sold at auction at Christie’s in New York City in 2015. Credit: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images
The next sculpture to have come closest to the $100 million mark is Jeff Koons’ “Rabbit,” which raked in $91.1 million in 2019 to become the most expensive work by a living artist.
Public art made private
Although now up for private sale, “Grande femme I” was originally intended to be a public work of art that passersby could experience up close. It was commissioned by architect Gordon Bunshaft in 1956 as part of a group of monumental works meant to occupy the Chase Manhattan Plaza in New York’s Financial District. The sculptor envisioned the space would be occupied by a walking man, a standing woman and a head on a pedestal, forms he often repeated in his work.
Giacometti began casting the bronzes in 1960, in the last decade of his life. During that period, he exclusively created the emaciated, striking figures he became known for, following an earlier stint as a member of the Surrealists alongside artists like Salvador Dalí and Max Ernst.
In 2018, the Guggenheim in New York held a retrospective of Giacometti’s career with nearly 200 works of art. Credit: Johannes Schmitt-Tegge/picture alliance/Getty Images
“Giacometti’s work continues to resonate with collectors and the general public, and command such consistently high prices in the market, because his themes … are universally understood, and his artistic style is distinctive and readily identifiable,” Lampley said. “Giacometti introduced a completely new visual vernacular for sculpting the human form that influenced both his contemporaries and successive generations of artists.”