Hitler statue Cattelana
Entiled Him, the statue of Adolf Hitler fetched $17m at a New York auctionGetty

A statue of Adolf Hitler kneeling sold for a record $17.2m (£11.9m) at a New York auction. The figure was far higher than the wax and resin piece was expected to fetch.

Entitled Him, the sculpture appears to be a small child kneeling in prayer when approached from the rear but when seen from the front the viewer is confronted with the unmistakable likeness of the Nazi dictator.

Hitler statue
The statue fetched a record price for work by artist Maurizio CattelanGetty

It was sold at the start of a week-long sale of modern, post-war and contemporary art at Christie's and Sotheby's in New York. The previous record for a piece of work by Cattelan was $7.9m.

"Hitler is pure fear. It's an image of terrible pain. It even hurts to pronounce his name. And yet that name has conquered my memory. It lives in my head, even if it remains taboo," artist Maurizio Cattelan told AFP. "I wanted to destroy it myself. I changed my mind a thousand times, every day."

Loic Gouzer, deputy chairman for post-war and contemporary art at Christie's, said in a statement the theme of the Bound to Fail sale was "to push the envelope with an auction that emphasized artists and works that challenge the traditional notions of commercial success". Commenting on the record price fetched for Him, Gouzer said: "The depth of interest for this work speaks to its international notoriety, and its ability to breach the boundaries of fine art and popular culture, forcing the viewer to reconsider challenging questions about action and absolution."

The sculpture is the artist's model from a series of three, and was shown at a retrospective of Cattelan's work at the Guggenheim in 2011.