One of the great sculptor-painters of the 20th century, Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti is a towering presence in modern art. His protracted figures – wraith-like and haunted – are highly recognisable, and reignited the public’s imagination at recent retrospectives at the National Portrait Gallery and Tate Modern. Now, an evening auction of impressionist and modern art at Sotheby’s London (Wednesday February 28) offers a rare opportunity to own one of just three sculptural cast-bronze chandeliers made by the artist in 1952. The piece is an important work depicting figures and symbols reflective of the artist’s existential interest in human suffering, and has an estimate of £6m-£8m.
More sculpture than light source, Lustre avec Femme, Homme et Oiseau has a compelling history. Giacometti’s friend, the Swiss publisher Louis Broder (a specialist in prints by artists such as Joan Miró and Pablo Picasso), commissioned the piece in plaster in 1948. Four years later, Giacometti produced three bronzes from the original: one now destined for the Sotheby’s sale, the remaining two acquired by the late French art dealer Aimé Maeght and the prominent German dealer Heinz Berggruen – who also obtained the plaster original and donated it to the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.
The exceptionally elegant pendant is a masterpiece: a standing woman and walking man perch upon four branches that unfurl into lights. When lit, the figures cast larger shadows into the surrounding space and animate their timelessness to theatrical effect. The bronze dates from a crucial period in Giacometti’s work when, affected by postwar trauma, he began to elongate his figures. Compositions of cages and strolling figures – strikingly evident in this piece – are a recurrent theme dealing with isolation, incommunicability and the strangeness of human relationships, often between men and women. It’s these unmistakable signatures that ensure this piece will be a highlight of the sale.