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Auction PR Publicity Announcements News and Information

Sotheby’s to Auction Sculpture by Alberto Giacometti, L’Homme qui Marche I

On Wednesday, February 3, 2010, Sotheby’s London will offer for sale one of the most important sculptures by Alberto Giacometti ever to have come to the auction market: “L’Homme qui marche I”, a life-size work that ranks among the most arresting and iconic of the artist’s bronzes.

GiacomettiIts appearance at auction in February will mark the first time a Giacometti figure of a walking man in this monumental size has come to auction in over 20 years. More than that, this particular piece has the distinction of being a life-time cast. No life-time cast of the subject has ever been seen at auction before. Formerly part of the corporate collection of Dresdner Bank AG (by whom it was acquired circa 1980), the work came into the possession of Commerzbank AG after the latter’s takeover of Dresdner Bank in 2009. Cast in 1961, “L’Homme qui marche I” is estimated to sell for a sum in excess of £12 million. Proceeds from the sale will be entirely put towards supporting Commerzbank’s foundations as well as selected museums. The work will be one of the centerpieces of Sotheby’s forthcoming Evening sale of Impressionist & Modern Art.

The market for 20th century sculpture and Giacometti has developed considerably over the last few years. Helena Newman, Co-Chairman of Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art Department Worldwide, said: “Following on from the exceptional price achieved with the sale of L’Homme qui chavire which made $19.3 million against an estimate of $8-12 million at Sotheby’s New York in November 2009, we are delighted to have the rare opportunity to offer a monumental and lifetime cast of this iconic work.”

With the acquisition of Dresdner Bank, Commerzbank acquired works of modern and contemporary art. From among these, the Giacometti sculpture has been selected for sale in London, and a further 100 or so works will be placed on permanent loan with museums in Frankfurt (Museum für Moderne Kunst, Städel Museum) Dresden (Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden and Städtische Galerie), and Berlin. The aim of the donations is to help enhance the existing collections of these outstanding museums, and also to allow for greater public access to many of the works from the former Dresdner bank collection.

Martin Blessing, CEO of Commerzbank, said: “We obtained a well-known corporate collection of modern and contemporary art when we acquired Dresdner Bank. We have now decided to allocate outstanding artworks to German museums and have selected one of the most valuable works in the collection for sale in London in February. In accordance with the high priority we place on cultural and social responsibility, we plan to donate the proceeds to our foundations and to the museums.”

“L’Homme qui marche I” was executed at the highpoint of Giacometti’s mature period. By this time, the image of a standing or walking human figure was established as pivotal to the artist’s iconography. In the years after the Second World War his figures were reduced to their bare essential form, displaying an austerity that embodies the artist’s existentialist concerns, and reflecting the lonely and vulnerable human condition. “L’Homme qui marche I” represents the pinnacle of Giacometti’s experimentation with the human form, combining a monumental, imposing size with a rich rendering of the surface. Capturing a moment in the figure’s movement, Giacometti created both a humble image of an ordinary man, and a potent symbol of humanity.

The sculpture originated as part of the public project that Giacometti was commissioned to do for the Chase Manhattan Plaza in New York. In 1956, a committee consisting of curators and major figures from principal public museums in New York and Boston selected Giacometti over Alexander Calder and Isamu Noguchi for the scheme which was planned as the first modernist outdoor project in the city’s financial district. In preparation for the project, Giacometti executed a number of sculptures only a few of which remain today, among them L’Homme qui marche I and II. Realising that it would take him many years to complete, Giacometti eventually abandoned the scheme. “L’Homme qui marche I”, however, became an iconic work in its own right: evidently pleased with the versions of the walking man he had produced for the purpose, Giacometti had them cast in bronze. A cast of “L’Homme qui marche I” was subsequently exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1962.

Giacometti paid significant attention to the modelling of his works, and “L’Homme qui marche I” exhibits a vibrancy and vitality unique to his sculpture. The rich treatment of the bronze, its recesses and moulds, create a dynamic surface, and invite a play of light and shadow in such a way that they become a part of the work itself.

Other examples of this sculpture are in major museum collections, such as the Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo. The cast belonging to the Fondation Maeght, St. Paul-de-Vence was recently on view at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, in the exhibition “Behind the Mirror: Aimé Maeght and his Artists” held in 2008-09.

Image: Alberto Giacometti, “L’Homme qui marche I”. Bronze, 183 cm. Est: £12-18 million. Photo: Sotheby’s