Top Lots: 2009 Year in Review

Editorial Staff Art


What: 200 One Dollar Bills by Andy Warhol, 1962
Where: Sotheby’s New York (November 11, Contemporary Art Evening Sale)
Estimate: $8-12 million
Sold For: $43.7 million

A large-scale masterpiece from Warhol’s first series of silkscreened paintings, 200 One Dollar Bills was also from the artist’s second earliest group of serial works. Originally from the collection of Robert and Ethel Scull, the work was last sold in 1986 for $385,000.


What: The Pearl Carpet of Baroda, Gujarat, India, c. 1865
Where: Sotheby’s Doha (March 19, Arts of the Islamic World)
Estimate: Upon request (bidding reportedly started at $5 million)
Sold For: $5.4 million

Comprised of over 2.2 million pearls and beads, and about 2,500 table and rose cut diamonds, the Pearl Carpet of Baroda—a tour-de-force of the Mughal style—was commissioned by the Maharaja of Baroda, Kunde Rao, for the tomb of Mohammed at Medina. Known for his passion for jewels, the Maharaja also owned the 128-carat Star of the South diamond.

What: Dragons armchair by Eileen Gray, c. 1917-19
Where: Christie’s Paris (February 23-25, Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé Collection)
Estimate: $2.5-3.8 million
Sold For: $28.2 million

Though Matisse’s Les coucous, tapis bleu et rose, which fetched over $45.6 million, was the top lot of the blockbuster YSL and Pierre Bergé auction that raised over $477 million, it was Gray’s unconventional art deco Dragons chair that had everyone talking. Setting a (very high) record for a work of 20th century design, it demonstrated that modern decorative art could compete at auction.

What: Portrait miniature of Peter the Great, early 18th century
Where: Sotheby’s New York (November 2, Russian Art)
Estimate: $80,000-120,000
Sold For: $1.3 million

A number of imperial works came to the marketplace this year including a cache of re-discovered heirlooms belonging to the Romanovs, but it was this jeweled award depicting Peter the Great—measuring only 3 1/2 inches tall—that commanded the greatest attention. Believed to be one of only about ten awards every given by the Tsar to trusted advisors, today only six others are known, four of which are in Moscow museum collections.

What: The Annenberg diamond ring by David Webb
Where: Christie’s New York (October 21, Jewels)
Estimate: $3-5 million
Sold For: $7.7 million

While the recent sale of the 5-carat “Vivid Pink” diamond for $10.7 million at Christie’s Hong Kong set multiple auction records—the highest price paid at auction for a pink diamond and the highest price per carat for a diamond—our pick for 2009’s top gem was Lee Annenberg’s 32-carat diamond ring by David Webb. A noted philanthropist and art patron, Annenberg bought the ring for herself on the occasion of her 90th birthday in 2007.

What: A country home along ‘a continuation of Broadway,’ October 1848 or earlier
Where: Sotheby’s New York (March 30, Photographs)
Estimate: $50,000-70,000
Sold For: $62,500

The world of photography suffered some tremendous losses in 2009—the expiration of Polaroid film, the death of Irving Penn—but the sale of this humble daguerreotype by an anonymous photographer, which offers one of the earliest views of New York City, is a poignant reminder of the medium’s lasting importance.

What: Autograph manuscript of Abraham Lincoln’s election victory speech, 1864
Where: Christie’s New York (February 12, Books & Manuscripts)
Estimate: $3-4 million
Sold For: $3.4 million

Days after the historic inauguration of President Barack Obama, Christie’s offered for sale the original manuscript of President Abraham Lincoln’s victory address for his 1864 reelection. Lincoln’s speech—given during the Civil War—referred to the nation’s greatest challenges and called for reconciliation between the country’s divided citizens.


What: Marble sarcophagus relief, Roman, c. 200-225 AD
Where: Sotheby’s New York (December 10, Egyptian, Classical, and Western Asiatic Antiquities)
Estimate: $150,000-250,000
Sold For: $1.5 million

This ancient Roman marble sarcophagus panel depicting Dionysiac decoration—one of only five known examples—at one time belonged to the Borghese family, whose collection of antiquities dates to the 17th century, and was recently discovered to have belonged to the French writer Émile Zola. Zola purchased the relief in 1894 while conducting research in Italy for his forthcoming novel Rome, in which it inspired a brief passage (p. 44). The relief was later acquired by the actress Cécile Sorel, who reportedly had it installed against the bathtub of her Parisian apartment.

What: Peony table lamp by Tiffany Studios, c. 1915
Where: Christie’s New York (December 8, Magnificent Tiffany)
Estimate: $600,000-900,000
Sold For: $1.5 million

One of Tiffany Studios’ most coveted designs, the Peony lamp was only made for a brief period from about 1913 to 1920, and originally retailed for between $30 and $750 depending on the size of the shade and type of base. This piece comes from the collection of Eugene and Eleanor Gluck, early collectors of Tiffany masterworks in the 1970s. To learn more about this design see our Closer Look feature here.

To see all of our weekly ‘Top Lot’ features from 2009, click here.