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Futurist masterpiece by Umberto Boccioni could sell at Christie's for up to $4.5m

A different version of the sculpture Unique Forms of Continuity in Space sold at the auction house in 1975 for $41,000

Umberto Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (Forme uniche della continuità nello spazio), cast in 1972 Courtesy of Christie's

The major Futurist work and early 20th-century epochal piece, Umberto Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (Forme uniche della continuità nello spazio), will go under the hammer at Christie’s New York on 11 November with an estimate of $3.8m to $4.5m.

The work was conceived in 1913 and cast in 1972; all of the bronze casts are posthumous (Boccioni fell from his horse and died in 1916, aged 33). The original plaster piece is housed at the Museu de Arte Contemporânea da Universidade de São Paulo.

The cast consigned, which was previously in a European private collection, is one of eight numbered bronzes made between 1971 and 1972, which were commissioned by Claudio Bruni Sakraischik, the director of the Rome-based gallery La Medusa.

These were modelled on a 1951 example owned by Count Paolo Marinotti, who obtained the bronze cast in question from Benedetta Cappa Marinetti, widow of the Futurist firebrand Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. Other 1972 casts from the Marinotti series are in the collections of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, and the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art.

An image of the work appears on the 20 cent Italian euro piece. But this is not the first time Christie’s has sold the piece. “The work that [Christie’s] sold in 1975 is from the same group of casts as ours: Forme uniche della continuità nello spazio (Unique Forms of Continuity in Space); 5/8 (our example is 4/8). It sold at Christie’s London in December 1975, where it sold for 17,000 guineas ($41,140),” a spokeswoman says.

The sculpture, considered a Futurist masterpiece, ripples outwards into the environment, penetrating the air. In his manifesto on sculpture, La Scultura Futurista published in April 1912, Boccioni stressed how his works fuse with their surroundings, saying: “We will break open the figure and enclose it in its environment.”

Asked if the work should be placed in a museum, Roberta Cremoncini, director of the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art in London, says: “This is an iconic image and represents a very important moment in the history of the avant-garde. Obviously, I think that it would be great if it could go on public display in a museum, but on the other hand we are lucky enough that there are various [versions] of the sculpture around the world, so in a way it is not ‘unique’.”

She adds: “This is one of the most instantly recognisable of all Modernist sculptures and represents an aerodynamic figure—part man, part machine—racing energetically towards the brave new world envisioned by the Futurist movement, a world ‘multiplied’ by technology, speed and industrialisation.” Umberto Boccioni: Recreating the Lost Sculptures is currently on show at the Estorick Collection (until 22 December).