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Henry Moore sculpture fetches record-breaking £3.9m at New York sale

A giant work made by the artist Henry Moore when he was in his seventies broke a world record for British sculptures when it sold for almost £3.9m.

The work, Three Piece Reclining Figure: Draped, beat its pre-sale estimate of £3.1m at Christie's Rockefeller Centre headquarters in New York on Tuesday. The sale broke a record previously set by Moore, when two of his pieces sold for £2.6m.

Three Piece Reclining Figure, which is 15 feet long, was conceived in 1975. It was first owned by the Henry Moore Foundation in Hertfordshire and displayed at the courts of justice in Luxembourg. A private buyer acquired it in 1997.

Christopher Eykyn, co-head of Christie's Impressionists and modern art department, said interest in sculpture had risen significantly in recent years, partly because of the number of collectors developing sculpture gardens. He said of Moore: "He's very accessible to many of today's collectors, because he manages a very successful blend of the figurative and the abstract. He appeals not only to buyers of classic modern art, but also to collectors of postwar and contemporary art. He's a modernist with very much a traditional grounding."

Two other Henry Moores in the New York auction were sold for considerably above their estimates.

Anita Feldman Bennet, curator of the Henry Moore Foundation in Britain, added that there was a particular demand for his large outdoor pieces.

"As soon as you reach a certain size where they are large and secure enough to safely go outdoors, they tend to really escalate in price," she said.

Moore, who died in 1986, became fascinated in the early 1960s with the possibilities of separating the elements of a person reclining and Three Piece Reclining Figure showed he was still experimenting with the idea well into his later years.

The sale in New York of Impressionist and Modern art works made £73m. A world-record price was reached for Leger, whose Cubist masterpiece, La Femme en Rouge et Vert, made more than £14m.

A reclining nude by Modigliani was sold for nearly £17m to an anonymous bidder.

Three works by Van Gogh made more than £15m and a Monet was sold for £2.6m to a private American buyer.

Christopher Burge, the honorary chairman of Christie's Americas, said: "The sale was among the best I've seen in several years. Overall the market is strong both in terms of vendors and the buying audience."