This Week’s Top Lots: March 16 – 20

Editorial Staff Art

* Despite having to remove a portrait by Johann Zoffany of Major George Maule, due to questions over its title, the sale of property from the Lake Como villa of Gianni Versace well exceeded expectations. It brought in over £7.4 million ($10,390,769) at Sotheby’s on Wednesday, doubling the presale high estimate. Indicating the market strength of decorative arts, the top lots were a pair of early 19th century Italian bookcases made for Princess Pauline Borghese, which realized £481,250 ($674,664) and £601,250 ($842,892)  each (estimates were £60,000-100,000 and £80,000-120,000).

* Sotheby’s sale of Chinese ceramics and works of art on Tuesday left more than 40% of lots unsold. However the top lot, a pair of famile-rose porcelain covered jars depicting the Eight Daoist Immortals sold well above the estimate of $300,000-400,000 and fetched $632,500, while the number two, a familie-rose lantern-shaped porcelain vase of boys at play, brought $602,500 (estimate $300,000-500,000). Both Qianlong period works were from the collection of Gordon Getty and were sold to private buyers in Asia.

* Christie’s sale of Japanese and Korean art on Tuesday was a disappointment with only 55% of lots sold. However, on Wednesday all but one lot in Christie’s sale of Chinese art from the Arthur M. Sackler collection were sold, with the top items selling well above presale estimates. A painted white marble Buddist votive stele from the Northern Qi Dynasty was sold to an anonymous bidder for over $1.7 million (estimate $300,000-500,000), while Birds and Ducks, a set of four hanging scrolls by Bada Shanren, brought over $1.2 million (estimate $300,000-500,000).

* On Thursday, Christie’s sale of Chinese ceramics and works of art, including jades from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, also showed the market strength for the very best items. The top lot, a Yongle Period blue and white porcelain basin, was sold to a private buyer from Asia for over $2.3 million, well exceeding it presale estimate of $400,000-600,000. A doucai petal-lobed porcelain vase from the Yongzheng Period brought more than $1.8 million ($100,000-150,000), and was sold to an Asian dealer.

* On Wednesday and Thursday Sotheby’s hosted its first sale in Doha, the capital of Qatar, with mixed results-several lots went unsold but some surpassed expectations. Orientalist paintings by Rudolf Ernst fetched healthy prices ($542,500, $482,500, and $422,500 all with estimates between $350,000 and $500,000), and an early 17th century Persian figural silk velvet panel brought over $3.4 million (estimate $250,000-350,000). The star lot was the Pearl Carpet of Baroda, commissioned by the Maharajah of the former Indian state of Baroda around 1865 and featuring more than one million natural Basra seed pearls and nearly one million other gems and glass beads. It sold for $5.5 million (with bidding starting a $5 million)-an auction record for a rug or carpet.

* Jewelry sold well at Skinner this week, with the top lot, a Tiffany & Co. Renaissance revival enamel and gem-set longchain designed by Paulding Farnham around 1901 from the family of William and Henry Walters of Baltimore. The necklace, estimated at $75,000-125,000, was purchased by an institution for $402,000. Other late-nineteenth century examples did well including an archeological revival gold and glass bead necklace by Castellani, also from the Walters family, that brought $67,545 (estimate $4,000-6,000), and a Renaissance revival articulated grillwork gold and gem-set armlet that was sold for $40,290 (estimate $2,500-3,500).


Images from top: Interior view of the Gianni Versace villa, Lake Como; Pearl Carpet of Baroda, Gujarat, India, c. 1865. Images courtesy of Sotheby’s. Longchain by Tiffany & Co., design by Paulding Franham, New York, c. 1901. Image courtesy of Skinner, Inc.