A stainless steel sculpture of a rabbit by the artist Jeff Koons– identical to one in Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum – has set an auction record, fetching just under £71m.

The sale of Koons’s 1986 Rabbit for $91m at Christie’s in New York makes it the most expensive work by a living artist.

The piece was bought by art dealer Robert E Mnuchin, the father of US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, on behalf of an unnamed collector. It smashed its reserve price of $50m.

Rabbit is one of three editions plus one artist’s proof – currently on show at the Ashmolean as part of its blockbuster Jeff Koons show.

The record-breaking bunny came from the collection of the late media mogul S.I. Newhouse and had not been on public show for more than 30 years. The Ashmolean had requested a loan of the sculpture for its show but was turned down. It instead borrowed a piece from the Broad Foundation in Los Angeles.

Ashmolean Director Xa Sturgis said there had been a surge in interest in the show since the sale and he predicted an upturn in visitor numbers as it enters its final weeks.

The show, which opened in February will close on June 9.

He said: “I am keen to remind people that this is now the most expensive work by a living artist in the world and there’s a version in Oxford. We are entering the last lap of the show and some people are waking up to the fact they haven’t seen it yet. The sale of Rabbit is helping increase interest.”

He said the timing of the sale was “a happy coincidence”, adding: “It explains why we couldn’t borrow that version of Rabbit.”

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And does he think it’s worth it? “Clearly more than one person thinks so,” he laughed. “It’s an iconic work and it was the last time that any of the four rabbits will come up for auction – so it was a last opportunity.

“It is a staggering amount of money though, which can make you cross or depressed or just aware of the fact that there is this small group of extremely wealthy individuals.”

And would he have bought it, had he been able to afford it?”No,” he said. “I’m a fan of museums; I’m not an acquisitive type.”

The Oxford Times:

There are no plans to increase security round the museum’s own Rabbit, which is insured through a Government Indemnity Scheme which protects touring exhibitions.

Mr Sturgis said: “We were always very aware of its value and it does already have security measures associated with it. As long as we meet stringent conditions around security, the Government insures the work. Without that, exhibitions would be considerably more expensive.”

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Christie’s had described the sculpture as “one of the most iconic works of 20th-century art,” saying: “It is crisp and cool in its appearance, yet taps into the visual language of childhood. Its lack of facial features renders it inscrutable, yet its form evokes fun and frivolity.”

The previous record for a living artist’s work was set by British artist David Hockney. His 1972 Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) brought in $90.3 million dollars at Christie’s last year, smashing the earlier record which was also for a Koons piece – Balloon Dog (Orange).

The Oxford Times: