For those who know anything about Andy Warhol -- and who doesn't? -- Fred Hughes was more than simply the artist's business partner. He was the éminence grise of the Warhol empire, confidante of Mick Jagger and Jackie O, Halston and Loulou de la Falaise. He set the tone of fabulousness that defined celebrity in the Studio 54 era. If you didn't have a royal title, best-selling album or trust fund, Hughes wouldn't want to know you.
When Hughes died in January 2001 at the age of 57, he owned a wisteria-covered townhouse at Lexington Avenue and 89th Street, filled with a typically Warholian assortment of 18th-century costumes, tribal masks, Tudor paintings, American Empire furniture, photography, Mexican silver and, of course, paintings and drawings by Andy Warhol. Now, the building is for sale through Sotheby's International Realty for $3,800,000.
As for the art and artifacts, the Collection of Frederick W. Hughes sold at Sotheby's New York on Oct. 10, 2001, for a total of $3,324,535. The presale estimate was $2.1 million-$3.1 million. Competition was fierce with 304 of 356 lots (85.4 percent) finding buyers. "It's a mini-Warhol!" said Nan Chisholm, the Sotheby's specialist who helped catalogue the sale, as she strolled the preview exhibition. Chisholm was referring to Sotheby's sale of Warhol's estate in 1988, a colossal affair with over 2,500 lots, realizing $25 million.
Ironically, Hughes was a product of complete self-invention. He came from a small town in Texas and exhibited dandified behavior by the age of 8. His brother, Tommy Hughes, one of the sale's main beneficiaries, describes the young Fred in the sales catalogue: "As a child he wanted to be one of the best dressed men in the world. He knew he wanted to become very wealthy." Their shared bedroom "could have been in Architectural Digest. We had stuffed hawks, human hair wreaths, box-framed butterflies, a tiger rug, a beaver top hat, bamboo shades and some pre-Columbian fertility goddesses."
Tommy Hughes also explains that his eccentric brother "truly adored women, especially rich ones!" Fred met a "rich one," Houston philanthropist Dominique de Menil, and became her protégé. Hughes' friend, writer Fran Lebowitz, writes in the auction catalogue, "He was a social climber from an Edith Wharton novel. He did it so well."
In 1967 Hughes attended a party at architect Philip Johnson's Glass House in New Canaan, Conn., where he met Andy Warhol. Soon thereafter Hughes was running Warhol's studio, the legendary Factory. Hughes became publisher of Interview Magazine, which provided the pair access to all the rich and famous people they had ever wanted to meet.
The day of the auction, Elaine Whitmire, head of Sotheby's 19th-century furniture and decorations, made her predictions. "The things that will sell the best will be the personal memorabilia, the photos of Warhol and the Factory." She continued "Also, everyone wants Cecil Beaton's photo album." Whitmire was correct about that. The Beaton, an album of personal snapshots from the 1920s and 1930s containing 650 images, sold for $19,150 (est. $3,000-$5,000).
Whitmire spent countless hours in Hughes' townhouse before it was disassembled for sale. She said of his style, "Some people have a great eye for collecting. They don't need a decorator to understand exactly how things should mesh. Hughes could combine a bat with a courtly painting with a Warhol Jackie. And it all worked. Hughes had great flair." By the way, that was not just any bat. The giltwood figure of a bat sold for an astonishing $20,300 (est. $2,000-$3,000).
The auction began at 2 p.m. Benjamin F. Doller, head of 19th-century European painting, called out the bids from the rostrum. His main challenge seemed to be rousing the audience, comprised of 40 slumping bodies, scattered about the salesroom. The ghosts of Studio 54 had returned from the grave, a blasé bunch not impressed with the pomp of the auction proceedings.
And where were the celebs? High up in the VIP box, five pairs of eyeballs darted anxiously around the salesroom. This spot is normally reserved for consignors who wish to observe in privacy. A dozen client-services staffers sat beside phone banks, ready to execute phone bids.
No one would discuss the identity of bidders, but Sotheby's representatives acknowledged interest from major celebrities. Two bold-face names in the auction room were Carl Bernstein of Deep Throat fame and Julian Schnabel, an artist and filmmaker, who did some last minute previewing behind the stage.
With lots of phone action and some heated paddle-waving in the salesroom, the sale took off. The top lot was Andy Warhol 's 1964 Jackie, a synthetic polymer and silkscreen ink on canvas, 20 by 16 inches. The pensive, blue Jackie sold for $187,250 (est. $80,000-$100,000) to a private U.S. buyer. The second highest price was realized for another Warhol, the 1962 Clocks (2 Times), also synthetic polymer and silkscreen ink on canvas. The spare black and white image of two vintage Westclox wall clocks sold for $148,750 (est. $80,000-$100,000), also to a private U.S. buyer.
The top lot purchased by a dealer was a rosewood cellarette, ca. 1795, attributed to John and Thomas Seymour of Boston (est. $80,000-$120,000). The deluxe wine chest went for $92,750. A rare mahogany games table, ca. 1825, attributed to the School of Lannuier also made the top ten list, selling for $69,750 (est. $50,000-$70,000) to a private American collector. The catalogue lists the table's provenance as Hirschl and Adler Galleries, where Hughes was a regular client. Other Hirschl and Adler purchases include a bronze statue of The Young Sophocles with his Lyre by John Talbott Donoghue from 1889 selling for $46,750 (est. $15,000-$20,000); a pair of 19th-century American large painted chalkware cats, which clobbered the estimate selling for $41,000 (est. $6,000-$8,000); and an Empire mahogany secretary attributed to Joseph and John Meeks, ca. 1840, which sold for $12,000 (est. $5,000-$8,000).
Writer Fran Lebowitz came prepared to buy the Meeks' secretary, but said the price was too rich for her literary purse strings. "Things are going well for Fred's brother," Lebowitz quipped, "Things are not going well for Fran." Lebowitz wore a blue blazer over a pinstripe Brooks Brother's oxford and jeans. She held a soft pack of Marlboro Lights in her hand. "Now I am going to smoke," she said, striding off towards the elevators.
Thomas Ward Gibb, a New York decorator, was also foiled in his attempt to take home a piece of the Hughes' booty. Gibb, an avid scrimshaw collector, had set his sights on a pair of 19th-century Americana ivory whale's teeth bookends. Dressed in an elegant brown pinstripe suit, Gibb described Hughes' collection as ranging from "borderline kitsch to very fine items." The bidding for the bookends was brisk and steep. The whale's teeth sold for $11,400 (est. $1,000-$1,500). As the gavel came down, Gibb swept out of the salesroom, empty-handed.
The first 45 lots of the sale were comprised of American Indian objects. One important item included a 10-inch-lomg Tlingit polychrome wood frontlet that sold for $40,000 (est. $15,000-$20,000). A group of four large-format Native American portraits by photographer Edward S. Curtis, printed on tissue and dating to 1903-1904, sold for $9,000 (est. $4,000-$6,000). One interested bidder was a film producer, who declined to give his name. He paced the back wall of the salesroom, a black cell phone wire dangling from his ear. The Producer clutched the sales catalogue as well as a thick glossy brochure from the William Morris Talent Agency.
Soon thereafter, several vases by Jean Dunand sold well beyond pre-sale estimates. A large 1925 Dunand patinated bronze vase, 22.5 inches tall, sold for $64,000 (est. $7,000-$9,000). A 1925 eggshell oviod Dunand vase with lacquer-on-copper decoration sold for $64,000 (est. $20,000-$30,000).
Big prices were also bid for Hughes' flatware and dinner service. A 20th-century Taxos Mexican silver flatware service for 12 fetched $11,400 (est. $1,500-$2,000). A Wedgewood cream ware dinner service from 1800 decorated with lavender flowers sold for $10,200 (est. $2,500-$3,500). Dining like Fred is a costly affair.
Next up were black and white photos from the Warhol Factory era. Some sold well. Some did not. Three Warhol gelatin silver prints stitched with thread and showing Bianca Jagger, Liza Minnelli and Jacqueline Onassis in Liza Minelli's dressing room, ca. 1975, sold for $19,150 (est. $5,000-$10,000). However the next four Warhol celeb portraits failed to sell, including images of Pope John Paul II, Liza Minelli, and Bianca Jagger dressed in '70s party regalia with a disposable razor pressed against her bare armpit.
Another photo that did not attract a buyer was Man Ray's 1945 Portrait of Selma Browner (est. $2,000-$3,000), Man Ray's sister-in-law. However, a unique Polaroid of May Ray by Warhol from 1973 brought $7,800 (est. $2,000-$3,000). However, another Man Ray creation, a 1970 version of his famous Cadeau readymade, an iron with a row of spikes, sold for $20,300 (est. $1,500-$2,000).
Courtly paintings comprised the next big grouping. Daniel Mytens, the Elder's Portrait of the Duke of Buckingham ca. 1590, went within the estimate for $46,750 (est. $30,000-$50,000). The Duke, a tall thin figure, wears an elaborate costume decorated with hundreds of large cultured pearls and a wide lace collar. Hughes was a fashionable dresser, as several photos in the catalogue show -- in a number of them, he is actually wearing spats.
An oil painting Portrait of Charles I as the Prince of Wales, ca. 1576-1621, attributed to Paul van Somer sold for $49,625 (est. $40,000-$60,000). Hughes also had a portrait of the Prince Charles of today, a 50 by 42 inch work done in 1983 by Warhol. This exceedingly flattering image brought $81,250 (est. $70,000-$90,000).
At about 6 p.m., four hours into the sale and with over 100 lots to go, Anthony Haden-Guest, infamous social gadfly and author of The Last Party, a chronicle of the age of Studio 54, came hurtling towards the entrance. Two black limousines were parked at the curb. When asked to comment on the sale, he said "I'm sorry, I'm late. I have to go. I'm late for the party."
LINDSAY POLLOCK is a freelance writer based in New York City.