Lot 121
  • 121

Harry Bertoia

150,000 - 200,000 USD
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  • Harry Bertoia
  • Maquette for the "Comet" Sculpture designed for W. Hawkins Ferry
  • brass-coated metal wire and bronze
  • 49 1/2 x 19 1/2 x 19 1/2 inches


S|2, Bertoia: A Celebration of Sound and Motion, Sotheby's New York, February-March 2014
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Bertoia: A Celebration of Sound and Motion, S|2, Sotheby's New York, February-March 2014


Nancy N. Schiffer and Val O. Bertoia, The World of Bertoia, Altglen, Atglen, PA, 2003, pp.146-149 (for related models)
Celia Bertoia, The Life and Work of Harry Bertoia, Atglen, PA, 2015, p. 65 (for a discussion on Bertoia's philosophy on wire sculpture design)


Overall in very good condition. When viewed in person, the wires are brilliantly textured presenting variations of yellow and golden tones, with the horizontal wires terminating in rich patinated metal caps with highlights of maroon red and charcoal grey. The surfaces with minor scattered oxidation inherent to the production of the piece and intended by the artist. Two to three wires with very slight and minor bends which do not affect the overall composition of the work. When viewing the work in person, it has an incredible three-dimensionality to it that is difficult to express via the catalogue illustration. While designed as a maquette for a larger scale work, this piece is very impressive in its own right as an expression of Bertoia's series of complex wire sculptures executed in the 1960s and 1970s. An dynamic and rare form that presents exceptionally well overall.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

This lot is offered together with a certificate of authenticity from the Harry Bertoia Foundation, Bozeman, Montana.

Intensely intricate and domestic in scale, the present work is a maquette for Comet, a 1964 monumental sculpture that Harry Bertoia designed for the home interior of W. Hawkins Ferry, an acclaimed 20th century collector and architectural historian. Commissioned in collaboration with architect William Kessler, the large scale sculpture was designed to be hung from the ceiling, ultimately descending fourteen feet. Archival letters establish the direct correspondence between Ferry and Bertoia and convey their thoughts on dimensions and structural possibilities, eventually culminating with the final “comet” design. Upon the sculpture’s completion, Ferry wrote to the artist, “Your sculpture has been hung, and I want to congratulate you for doing such a magnificent job. The piece is perfect for the space; and, when the spotlight is turned on, the effect is positively brilliant.” The present maquette was integral to the transformation of the original design in late 1963 into the full, large-scale realization and subsequent installation in April 1964. The large scale realization of Comet is currently housed within the permanent collection of the Detroit Institute of Art (accession no. 1989.19), which W. Hawkins Ferry’s grandfather had founded.

The present lot is an exceptional and rare example from Bertoia’s series of complex wire sculptures executed in the 1960s and 1970s. As a whole, these “comet” forms provide particular insight into the artist’s lifelong investigation of the cosmos. With these works, Bertoia explored the wonder of the astrological phenomenon in metal, approaching the subject with a heightened appreciation for all aspects of aesthetics, from color and texture to proportion and balance. Through the process of welding individual pieces of bronze-coated piano wire, Bertoia re-envisioned the celestial marvel, manipulating the form into a powerful cosmic sculpture. Bertoia employed the same highly textured yet weightless effect in a series of large scale wire sculptures produced for various public and private interiors; these commissions include Sunlit Straw, which he created for the Northwestern National Life Insurance Company in Minneapolis, as well as a similar untitled ceiling sculpture for the Sun Oil Company in Radnor, Pennsylvania. Demarcating a key step in the realization of these large scale interior works, the maquettes were made from the same lustrous brass-coated wire technique that Bertoia utilized for the large scale works and were essential for the final approval of the overall designs.