A sculpted stone head by artist Amedeo Modigliani sold at Christie's
in Paris on Monday for euro 43.18 million ($52.8 million), breaking the record for a work by the Italian artist, the auction house said.
It was also the highest-priced work sold at an auction in France, Christie's said. An anonymous buyer bid for the piece by telephone.
The piece, sculpted between 1910 and 1912, depicts an elongated head with almond-shaped eyes and flowing hair, and it is reminiscent of the artist's paintings. Modigliani, who lived from 1884 to 1920, originally focused on sculpture but switched to painting in part because of health problems.
The painting was part of a collection amassed by Gaston Levy, a French businessman who founded the country's Monoprix supermarket chain. Levy died in 1977.
Modigliani was one of just three artists in his generation to achieve distinction in three different media: painting, sculpture and drawing. The other two were Picasso and Matisse. Modigliani's sculptures are very rare. At present, there are only 27 confirmed Modigliani sculptures of which 17 are at prestigious museums, including: the Barnes Foundation, Merion, Pennsylvania; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Minneapolis Institute of Art; Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University; Tate Gallery, London; Kunsthalle, Karlsuhe, Germany; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; Le Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; and the Musée d'Art Moderne Lille Métropole, Villeneuve d'Ascq. Thus, only 10 of Modigliani's sculptures are still in private collections, including this one.
The present sculpture was sold at the Hotel Drouot in Paris in June 1927 where it was purchased by Gaston Levy, an artist and conservator who had known Modigliani since his Montmartre days. It has stayed in the Levy family for the past 83 years1.
The Levy sculpture has enormous presence. The head is very vertical but the hair extends back in a strongly horizontal manner. Despite the apparent frontality of the work, the sculpture is clearly meant to be seen all around and cannot be fully appreciated any other way. On one side, it looks like the hair is blowing in the wind. With its slender neck, fine features and bulb of hair in back, the sculpture recalls the famous bust of Queen Nefertiti in Berlin's Egyptian Museum. The Levy head also combines the raw, sensual power of a Michelangelo stone figure with the haunting, totemic mystery of an African mask, two other sources that inspired him in his sculpture.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.