4 Feb 2009

Rare Degas sculpture sets new auction record

6:02 pm on 4 February 2009

It seems the global recession has yet to hit the top end of the art market, with a rare sculpture of a young ballet dancer by Edgar Degas fetching a record price at auction in London.

Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans was one of only a handful of bronze casts by the French impressionist remaining in private hands and was sold to a private Asian buyer for Stg 13.3 million at the Sotheby's auction.

It had been expected to sell for up to Stg12 million, although the final price did include a buyer's premium.

According to Sotheby's, the previous auction record for a Degas sculpture was $US12.3 million set at Sotheby's, New York, in 1999.

The lot was part of Sotheby's London sale of impressionist and modern art, which raised Stg 32.6 million overall versus pre-sale expectations of Stg 40.6 million to Stg 55.6 million.

The auction, watched closely in the art world for signs of further fallout from the global financial crisis, underlines experts' views that extremely rare pieces are holding up well in value, but overall the market is weakening.

Degas' figure of a girl, dated 1879-81, was originally made in wax using a wire structure for the body. Degas dressed the figure in real silk, tulle and gauze and a wig.

The sculpture, the only one to be exhibited during the artist's lifetime, was found in Degas' studio after his death in 1917 and cast in bronze from 1922.

It was offered by John Madejski, a British millionaire who is chairman of Reading soccer club.