Born into one of Austria’s wealthiest families, Wittgenstein came to England to study in 1908. He arrived in Cambridge in 1911, where he would spend much of his later career.
It was during a period back in Austria, that he produced a small and simple bust known as Head of a Girl. Dating from 1925-28, it was made at a time when Wittgenstein was helping design a new townhouse in Vienna’s Kundmanngasse with his sister Margaret (the property is now known as Haus Wittgenstein).
The 15½in (39.5cm) high fired clay sculpture remained with Margaret, descending through her family, but later entered a separate collection. It was consigned to Dorotheum’s latest modern art sale in Vienna on November 21 from an Austrian source.
The catalogue described it as “the only sculpture created by Wittgenstein” and “philosophy made into matter… an attempt to draw a line connecting ethics and aesthetics”.
Whether or not this was Wittgenstein’s motivation, its significance as part of Austria‘s cultural heritage was recognised with the work being listed by the authorities as a ‘protected monument’, meaning it could not be exported.
This may have deterred international interest at the auction but, even still, Head of a Girl drew significant competition against a €40,000-70,000 estimate. It eventually sold at €80,000 (€109,239 with fees).