A Mannerist bronze after Giambologna brought a surprise €3.2m (£2.7m) at Artcurial on March 27.
The toast of a series of sales in Paris timed to coincide with the annual Salon du Dessin fair, the 14in (35cm) high Allegory of Architecture c.1590 was acquired by a European collector way above its guide of €30,000-50 000. The price (€3.7m including buyer’s premium) is among the highest paid at auction for Giambologna (1529-1608), second to the £3.2m bid at Christie’s King Street in July 2014 for a 23in (59cm) signed cast of Rape of Sabine.
The original marble for Allegory of Architecture, a seated nude holding a plumb line and set squares in her right hand, is dated 1565 and in the Bargello, Florence. The most common versions in bronze were made without the ‘tools’ but this example, probably cast by Antonio Susini in Florence c.1580-90, retains them.
The bronze was probably heightened in lamp black during the 19th century in the fashion of collectors’ cabinets of the time but it retains an original dark brown patina. Its century-long provenance included its sale in Paris in 1922 for Fr31,000 and its acquisition at auction in 1962 by Fernand Lafarge, a descendent of the founder of a successful leather goods company based in Amiens.
His collection titled Un homage a la sculpture, ranged from classical and medieval sculpture of the Haute Époque to Salon works and tribal art. Sold in 68 lots, it improved upon a global estimate of around €1m to bring €6.2m.
It was Lafarge’s father Joseph who had began the family sculpture collection with the acquisition of several works by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (1827-75). They included both a fine bronze cast of Carpeaux’s Ugolino and His Sons and a painted version of the subject rendered in grisaille oils.
The 2ft 2in x 21in (66 x 53cm) oil on panel, signed lower right Bt Carpeaux, was kept by the artist until he died – a visual reminder of the original plaster of the Count Ugolino horror story which he had exhibited in Rome to public sensation in 1861.
Sold as part of the artist’s studio sale held at the Hôtel Drouot in 1894, the painting was purchased by Joseph Lafarge in 1913. It has been exhibited and published on a number of occasions most recently as part of the exhibition Michel-Ange au siècle de Carpeaux at the Valenciennes Musée des Beaux-arts in 2012. It was estimated by Artcuriel at €40 000-60 000 but again attracted multiple bidders before selling at €375,000 (£312,500).
A 19in (48cm) bronze of Carpeaux’s Ugolino, again part of the artist’s studio sale in 1894, had been acquired by Fernand Lafarge to replace a piece once owned by his father. He later recalled: “Daddy owned a lovely cast in bronze of Ugolino. I loved this magnificent group that I knew during my youth. When I saw the original of this bronze in the auction catalogue of 1969, I decided to acquire it. I have never regretted it.” Estimated at €100 000-150 000, it took €280,000 (£235,000).