A much-loved feature of the public realm, outdoor sculpture is just as at home in private gardens. Take your pick from classic to contemporary, lifelike to abstract, practical to pure decoration…

This article was originally published on Christie’s International Real Estate’s lifestyle blog, Luxury Defined.

When you think of outdoor sculpture, it is hard not to picture Henry Moore’s monumental figures looming large in the landscape. Moore firmly believed sculpture to be “an art of the open air,” despite being well established and in his fifties before starting to make works intended to sit outside. “I would rather have a piece of my sculpture put in a landscape, almost any landscape, than in or on the most beautiful building I know,” he once said.

Today, Moore’s outdoor sculptures are among the most desirable in the world;  last year his Reclining Figure: Festival, an eight-foot sculpture in bronze from 1951, was sold by Christie’s for more than £19 million ($29,187,230) – over three times its sales estimate. The market is buoyant for other early 20th-century masters, too. At the Christie’s London sale of Modern British Art in July 2013, Barbara Hepworth’s Curved Form (Bryher II) sold for £2,413,875 ($3,708,122), setting a new record for the artist at auction.

This image: Square With Two Circles, 1963 by Barbara Hepworth, one of the UK's most renowned outdoor sculptors. Photograph: © Jonty Wilde courtesy of YSP. Banner image, top: An equine masterpiece by Nic Fiddian-Green. Photograph: Richard Foster/Sladmore Contemporary.
This image: Square With Two Circles, 1963 by Barbara Hepworth, one of the UK’s most renowned outdoor sculptors. Photograph: © Jonty Wilde courtesy of YSP. Banner image, top: An equine masterpiece by Nic Fiddian-Green. Photograph: Richard Foster/Sladmore Contemporary.

European sculptors working at the turn of the last century, such as Aristide Maillol and Rembrandt Bugatti, also represent good investments. London’s Sladmore Gallery sold a Maillol to a US foundation for a sculpture park in St Louis for around $2 million in 2010.

Garden Makeover

But it’s not all about large-scale modern art. Before the 1950s, the market for outdoor sculpture was largely driven by classically inspired items, such as statues, pedestals, and marble busts. But, as English country houses went into decline and a penchant for abstraction took hold, people began to look at how they could decorate their gardens differently. Collectors now mix garden statuary with modern and contemporary art; after all, “it’s all big, physical sculpture,” says Anna Evans, the Christie’s specialist who organized a sale of garden statuary from Dunsborough Park in Surrey earlier this year.

Scarce and sought-after items that went under the hammer included a pair of Victorian terracotta urns by the noted British landscape designer James Pulham, which exceeded their pre-sale estimate and sold for £15,625 ($24,003), and an 18th- century painted lead model of a gamekeeper, which sold for £31,250 ($48,005).

UK artist Peter Randall-Page studied marble carving in Italy while travelling with the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Travelling Fellowship. Much of Randall-Page's work is inspired by organic forms such as seeds and fruit. Photograph: Marc Hill
UK artist Peter Randall-Page studied marble carving in Italy while travelling with the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Travelling Fellowship. Much of Randall-Page’s work is inspired by organic forms such as seeds and fruit. Photograph: Marc Hill

Sculptures of animals, usually cast in bronze, became popular in the early 19th century – a movement the French dubbed animalier. It is a tradition that has endured  in the works of contemporary British artists such as Nic Fiddian-Green and the late  Barry Flanagan. The latter is known for his leaping hares, the giants of which (at more than 10 feet tall) cost between $2 million and $4.5 million, although a seven-foot standing version went for £230,500 ($354,087) at auction in London this year.

Known for his colossal horse heads in bronze or beaten lead, the Surrey-based sculptor Fiddian-Green has attracted admirers from across the globe, including  the actors Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe.  In 2006, Fiddian-Green was commissioned  to create a 27-foot-tall equine head by JCB chairman Sir Anthony Bamford and  his wife for their Daylesford estate in Gloucestershire; the work was so big the Bamfords had to get planning permission to install it. The sculpture, which cost £1.5 million ($2,304,255), was temporarily displayed at London’s Marble Arch, but proved so popular that when it was moved to Daylesford, a 33-foot version was installed permanently in its place.

On a visit to the British Museum as a student, Nic Fiddian-Green encountered the great horse of Selene, one of the Elgin Marbles, and has been obsessed with capturing the beauty of horses' heads ever since. Photograph: Jonathan Stewart
On a visit to the British Museum as a student, Nic Fiddian-Green encountered the great horse of Selene, one of the Elgin Marbles, and has been obsessed with capturing the beauty of horses’ heads ever since. Photograph: Jonathan Stewart

Collectors wanting a Fiddian-Green sculpture will most likely have to commission one – a six-foot horse head for the garden starts at £45,000 ($69,128). “Nic’s work very seldom comes up on the secondary [resale] market,” says Gerry Farrell of Sladmore Gallery, explaining that around 80 per cent  of people take their outdoor sculptures with them when they move house. “If a work is too big or if it is settled in the landscape, people might leave it,” he says, so it’s worth asking  if you really love a piece.

FORGED IN THE US

A strong tradition for outdoor sculpture also exists in the US, with contemporary artists such as Mark di Suvero, Dan Graham, and Martin Puryear leading the way. While  di Suvero’s enormous geometric steel structures populate public spaces in more than 50 cities around the world, garden sculptures can also add a cachet to residential properties.

Works by prominent sculptors Steve Tobin and Joel Shapiro are installed in the grounds of Arbor Hill, a 70-acre Rafael Viñoly-designed estate just outside  of Philadelphia, which is currently on the market with Long & Foster Real Estate, an exclusive affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate. “These outdoor sculptures contribute to Arbor Hill’s status as one of the world’s great estates,” says Charlie Irwin, an associate broker with Long & Foster.

“Whether working in steel, bronze, or marble, the big names of modern and contemporary sculpture easily represent the best investments”

As in Britain, the 1950s marked a turning point in the history of US sculpture, with minimal and conceptual art replacing figurative forms. Later, land art began  to thrive, with sculptors including Robert Smithson going out into nature and creating giant works, such as Spiral Jetty, 1970, in the landscape. Bryan Hunt, a Manhattan-based artist whose bronze “Waterfalls” series was exhibited on Park Avenue in 2011, says the “wide open landscape [in the US] permeates the psyches of many American sculptors.”

The late Japanese-American artist and designer Isamu Noguchi represents another strand in US sculpture – one where form and function are perfectly fused. Noguchi created several sculpture gardens in his lifetime, including one outside his studio on the Japanese island of Shikoku, where he carved the large granite and basalt sculptures that came to define his career. A table carved in fossil marble, one of Noguchi’s rare private design commissions, last year fetched just under $2.9 million at Christie’s, more than double its pre-sale estimate.

Material Matters

The Argentinian-French artist Pablo Reinoso also crosses the art-design divide: his “spaghetti benches” – ordinary park benches in wood or steel with slats that appear to grow out of the end, either climbing upwards like tendrils or unfolding horizontally into loose curls – have gained him fans around the world, particularly in the Far East. A unique bench costs between €60,000 and €150,000 ($79,303-$198,257, including installation), depending on material and size.

The London-based artist Wendy Taylor, who has been commissioned more than 80 times to make sculptures for public places including London’s Holland Park and London Zoo, mainly works in stainless steel because, she says, “it weathers well; the surface  stays the same over time.” Taylor’s stainless steel sundial Timepiece was installed at  St Katherine’s Dock in 1973 (becoming  Grade II listed in 2004) and has, says the artist, only been cleaned once.

A sixth-generation East Londoner, Wendy Taylor is best known for her public commissions, including her series of bronze conkers, sycamore, and poppy seeds.
A sixth-generation East Londoner, Wendy Taylor is best known for her public commissions, including her series of bronze conkers, sycamore, and poppy seeds.

Whether working in steel, bronze, or marble, the big names of modern and contemporary sculpture easily represent the best investments – prices have risen across the board over the past 10 years.

When commissioning an outdoor work there are several things to consider, notably the length of time it takes to produce. From conception to installation, it can take six months to a year or more. Some artists are more hands on than others. For an artist like Helaine Blumenfeld, who works in marble and bronze, “the whole commissioning process is a real team effort with her client,” says Abby Hignell of specialist gallery Bowman Sculpture in London. When considering materials, Hignell says works in marble, cast iron, bronze, or aluminum are comparable in terms of price – where one base metal may be more expensive pound for pound, the casting process may be cheaper, so it generally evens out. And consider the weather; in sunnier climates, don’t go for works with large areas of polished bronze, as this will create glare, while marble will crack if water pools and freezes in the crevices of a sculpture.

Transporting and installing a work takes planning, too, but the artist or gallery representing them usually manages this, as well as how the work should be displayed.

But, ultimately, whether commissioning or buying, Christie’s specialist Evans advises collectors to be led by the heart: “Don’t go for the obvious pieces; buy things that you love.”

Try Before You Buy: The World’s Best Sculpture Parks

Changchun World Sculpture Park, Changchun City, China
There is something almost otherworldly about viewing the 441 sculptures contained within 227 acres of industrial wasteland downtown of Changchun. Power lines, construction cranes, and skyscrapers provide a striking backdrop to an incredibly diverse array of art.

Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Bretton Estate, Wakefield, West Yorkshire, UK
Some 500 acres of rolling parkland, including a lake and deer park, provide a dramatic landscape for modern and contemporary works by  the world’s finest sculptors including Andy Goldsworthy, Henry Moore (above), and Barbara Hepworth. The atmospheric park attracts families and walkers,  as well as art aficionados.  Some works are hidden in unexpected places: inside  a deer shelter is a haunting installation by James Turrell called Skyspace.

Billy Rose Art Garden, Jerusalem, Israel
Pairing natural and artistic beauty in the gardens of the Israel Museum, set on an ancient Jerusalem hillside, the Billy Rose Art Garden was designed by Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi. Created in the  style of a Japanese Zen garden, with gravel paths  and terraces, the oriental landscape hosts an impressive collection of work from Turner Prize-winning Anish Kapoor to Jacques Lipchitz and Pablo Picasso.


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