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  • Brancusi Sells For $27.5 Million, A New World Record
    May 6, 2005 NEW YORK.

    Constantin Brancusi, L'oiseau dans l'espace, signed with monogram 'CB'. Marble and stone, overall 48 in. (121.9 cm.) Executed 1922-23. Christie's Images LTD. 2005.

    A marble sculpture by Constantin Brancusi was sold for a record price of $27.5 million at Christie’s. A superb, previously unrecorded sculpture by Constantin Brancusi, one of his most celebrated compositions, Bird in Space (estimate: $8,000,000-12,000,000), was one of the highlights in Christie’s evening sale of Impressionist and Modern Art on May 4. The sculpture comes from a European Private Collection were it has been since 1937, having previously been in the collection of Léonie Ricou, a turn of the 20th century Parisian collector and friend to many artists in addition to Brancusi – Picasso, Modigliani and Gonzalez in particular.

    The recently rediscovered Bird in Space, carved in 1922-23, can rightfully be considered as a keystone in the history of 20th century sculpture, reflecting a crucial turning point in Brancusi’s sculptural evolution and in his extended series devoted to the bird subject. The present sculpture stands between the version belonging to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the one at the Fondation Beyeler, Switzerland. With these other two known early versions, the present sculpture marks the very beginning of Brancusi’s Birds in Space.

    Apart from its art historical importance however, the most striking element in Bird in Space is the very sophistication and delicacy of its execution. The subject of the bird is so closely captured within the carved marble, that even the stone’s white veins play an important role, cleverly linking the two parts of the body into a unified whole. From whichever angle the sculpture is observed, there is a wonderful sense of balance and refinement, taking full advantage of the third dimension.

    Léonie Ricou, a Parisian with a deep passion for contemporary art and literature whose portrait was painted by Modigliani and Picasso and sculpted by Brancusi, was in close and regular contact with both the established and the promising artists and writers of her time. She held salons at her Boulevard Raspail home and socialized with the likes of Guillaume Apollinaire, Modigliani, Villon, Gleizes, Léger, Derain and Picasso.

    Until now, the existing literature and correspondence supported that Ricou owned 3 works by Brancusi: a Maiastra in polished bronze, a Baiser, and most probably a Muse endormie. The rediscovery of Bird in Space now establishes that the collection held four Brancusi sculptures. With her second husband, the Belgian Alexandre Stoppelaere, Ricou acquired the present sculpture and had it shipped to Brussels in 1928. After Ricou died in circa 1930, the sculpture remained with Stoppelaere until 1937, when it was sold to a predecessor of the present owner. Amazingly, the original crate, first used when the piece was shipped to Brussels, has survived, preserving the sculpture until its recent discovery.

    Auction success

    Born in 1876, Brancusi was known for his simple, abstract forms and is considered as one of the founding figures of modern sculpture.

    He moved to Paris in 1904 and lived there until his death in 1957.

    His work was the subject of a major Tate Modern exhibition in London last year.

    Other sales in the auction included Pablo Picasso's neoclassical painting Tete et Main de Femme, which sold for $13.4 million (£7m).

    Paul Cezanne's Les Grands Arbres au Jas de Bouffan went for almost $11.8 million (£6.1m). The value of the entire auction was Christie's second highest since 1990, with the lots fetching a total of $142,892,800 (£75,047,103).

    "It was a thrilling evening with buying from around the world," said Christopher Burge, Christie's honorary chairman and the evening's auctioneer.