NEW YORK - Two masterpieces of modern sculpture sold for nearly $172 million at auction in New York on Tuesday, a 1950 bronze by Alberto Giacometti for $101 million and a Modigliani for $70.7 million.

Auction house Sotheby’s said the sculpture by Swiss artist Giacometti, “Chariot,” is one of the seminal achievements of modern art. It depicts a goddess frozen in motion and was considered a beacon of hope for the post-World War generation.

The record price for a Giacometti work at auction is $104.3 million, paid for “Homme qui marche I” at Sotheby’s in 2010.

The identity of the buyer was not immediately known. The sculpture had been in the same private collection for four decades.

“Chariot” was the most expensive valued lot in a week of auctions at Sotheby’s and rival Christie’s, which began Tuesday and last until November 12.

It was the highlight of Sotheby’s evening sale, which as a whole fetched more than $422 million, the highest total for any auction in the house’s history.

At the same sale, Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani’s small sculpture “Tete” smashed pre-sale expectations by selling for $70.7 million.

Sotheby’s said the price was an auction record for the artist.

“The market in the last 10 years or so has reappraised great sculpture,” Simon Shaw, Sotheby’s co-head of impressionist and modern art, told reporters.

“To have the Modigliani and the Giacometti achieve those exceptional prices tonight is something we’re delighted about.”

The Modigliani dates from 1911-1912, and is one in a series of rare sculptures carved from blocks of stone scavenged from construction sites across Paris.

It had been valued at $45 million.

Sotheby’s said competition was intense and appetite great in the market for ever dwindling impressionist and modern masterpieces of museum quality.

- Sculpture on rise -

“Sculpture has risen and taken its due,” said David Norman, Sotheby’s co-chairman of impressionist and modern art. “Today they’re now rivalling the top prices for any art works,” he said.

Of the paintings on offer, an Asian buyer snapped up Vincent van Gogh’s “Still Life, Vase with Daisies and Poppies” for $61.8 million, which surpassed its pre-sale estimate of $30-50 million.

The artist painted it three months before his death. The price was an auction record for any still life by the artist, said Sotheby’s.

Shaw said Tuesday’s bidders came from more than 40 countries. Interest was particularly strong from Europe and the United States, and there was “terrific activity” from Asia, he said.

Three works by legendary French impressionist Claude Monet from the same private American collection sold for $61.9 million, led by the canvas “Alice Hoschede au jardin” which fetched $33.77 million.

Monet was still “one of the hottest things” on the market, Shaw said.

Christie’s and Sotheby’s are auctioning around $1.7 billion worth of impressionist and modern, post-war and contemporary art over the next week.

The world record for the most expensive piece of art sold at auction was a Francis Bacon triptych — “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” — which sold for $142.4 million at Christie’s last year.