Alberto Giacometti’s most iconic and evocative sculpture, L’homme au doigt (Pointing Man) is to make its first appearance at auction, as a highlight of Christie’s evening sale in New York on 11 May.
Cast in bronze and standing whippet-thin at five feet ten inches, this dynamic and powerful figure is widely recognised as one of the most important sculptural achievements of the Modern era, created by the greatest master of the medium.
The sculpture will be a star lot in the curated sale, Looking Forward to the Past, comprised of a mix of important works from the Impressionist, Modern, Post-War and Contemporary periods. It is estimated in the region of $130 million, a reflection of the rarity and significance of this extraordinary work of art.
Pointing Man is among the great masterpieces in the collections of New York’s Museum of Modern Art and London’s Tate Gallery. Giacometti conceived the work in 1947 and made just six casts of it plus one artist’s proof.
Today, four are in major museums; the remaining are in foundation collections and private hands. The extreme rarity of the work is underscored by the fact that the cast to be offered at Christie’s is believed to be the only bronze version of Pointing Man that Giacometti painted by hand in order to heighten its expressive impact, making this a singular opportunity for the world’s top collectors to view and compete for this exceptional work.
‘Pointing Man is unquestionably Giacometti’s greatest sculpture,’ explains Jussi Pylkkanen, Global President of Christie’s. ‘Executed after the War in one incredible night of creative fervour, this noble figure points mankind to a brighter future beyond our limited horizons.’
Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966), L'homme au doigt, 1947. Signed and numbered 'A Giacometti 6/6'. Inscribed with foundry mark 'Alexis Rudier Fondeur Paris'. Bronze with patina and hand-painted by the artist. Height: 69 7/8 in. (177.5 cm.) © The Estate of Alberto Giacometti (Fondation Giacometti, Paris and ADAGP, Paris), licensed in the UK by ACS and DACS, London 2015. © 2015 Alberto Giacometti Estate/Licensed by VAGA and ARS, New York
By Giacometti’s own account, he created ‘L’homme au doigt in a single night in October 1947. His first solo exhibition in nearly 15 years was due to open at Pierre Matisse’s gallery in New York the following January, and time was running short. He was nearing the end of a year of extraordinary productivity, in which he had begun to grow his diminutive ‘pin people’ into life-size figures exhibiting his famously attenuated, wraith-like style.
On this particular night, his looming deadline spurred the sculptor to new heights of creativity and daring, reaching a crescendo in the early hours when his prototype was completed. ‘I did that piece… between midnight and nine the next morning,’ Giacometti told his biographer James Lord. ‘That is, I’d already done it, but I demolished it and did it all over again because the men from the foundry were coming to take it away. And when they got here, the plaster was still wet.’
When his solo exhibition at Pierre Matisse Gallery opened in January 1948 in New York, L’homme au doigt was front and centre — part of a trio of life-sized figures that formed the focal point of the show, which also included his celebrated figures Walking Man and one of his Standing Women. The exhibition was an instant sensation, introducing his radically innovative style and body of work to New York’s post-war art scene.
This cast of L’homme au doigt comes to market with a distinctly American provenance, having been purchased direct from Pierre Matisse in 1953. Its original owners were the celebrated collectors Dr. Fred and Florence Olsen, whose wide-ranging interests extended from Chinese and pre-Columbian art and objects to Abstract Expressionism. The Olsens were also the first owners of Jackson Pollock’s famous masterpiece Blue Poles (1952), and the two great modernist works shared pride of place in the couple’s custom-built Connecticut home, still known as The Olsen House, which they commissioned from the architect, painter, and sculptor Tony Smith. By 1970, the work passed into the collection of the current owner, a distinguished private collector who has kept it for the last 45 years.
Giacometti remains the only sculptor whose work has surpassed the $100 million mark at auction. In the last five years alone, four Giacometti bronzes have sold for more than $50 million, including Walking Man, which holds the current record for any work by the artist at $103.9 million, and Grand Tête Mince, from the Brody Collection, which soared above its pre-sale estimate of $25-30 million to achieve $53.2 million at Christie’s New York.
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