Private collectors, both American and European, battled over the top lots at Sotheby's antiquities sale in New York on Dec. 17, often doubling presale estimates. Christie's Dec. 18 antiquities auction was respectable but no runaway. But then, a sale of Tiffany lamps at Christie's a week earlier on Dec. 10 had turned in a triumphant $12,336,000 total with records falling at lightning speed.
Sotheby's antiquities, Dec. 17
The salesroom was chock full for Sotheby's Dec. 17 sale of Egyptian, Greek, Etruscan and Roman antiquities and Islamic works of art, each field having attracted its own constituency of dealers and collectors.
The top lot was a limestone round-topped stele from the time of Amenhotep II (Thebes, 18th Dynasty), which sold for $398,500 (est. $150,000-$200,000). The finely carved, richly inscribed stele dates from the 13th century B.C. and pictures the family of the guardian of the storehouse of the Temple of Amun. The stele, which is approximately 26 by 17 inches tall, comes from a private British collection; it was the only item among the top ten going to an (unnamed) American museum. (Prices given here include the auction-house commission of 15 percent on the first $50,000 and 10 percent on the remainder).
An American collector snapped up the sale's second highest offering, an Assyrian gypsum relief fragment from the throne-room of the northwest palace of Assurnasipal at Nimrod. Excavated more than 150 years ago, this carving depicts a soldier leading a captive prince in a procession. The segment measures 26 by 21 inches and sold for $387,500, almost double its $200,000 high estimate.
A 1st-century, blue-green Roman Imperial glass jar, bearing the signature of "Ennion," was the sale's third highest priced item. It brought $332,500 (est. $150,000-$200,000) from a European collector. Standing just over nine inches high, the mold-blown glass is heavily ornamented with a frieze of palmettes and a center band of lozenges.
The $4.9-million sale total reflected a high percentage of lots sold -- about 82 percent -- at consistently high prices.
A concurrent sale of Athenian black-figure vases from the holdings of Brussels collector J. L. Theodor realized $729,400, with all 34 of the offered items sold.
Top lot was an Attic black-figure amphora from the mid-sixth century B.C., which went for $90,500 to a private European collector (est. $50,000-$70,000).
"I am thrilled with the spectacular results," said Sotheby's antiquities chief Richard M. Keresey. "I was especially pleased by the great number of private collectors from Europe and here who bid so actively on all our lots. This is a great omen for the future."
Christie's antiquities, Dec. 18
Coptic and Cycladic antiquities, Roman statues, cylinder seals and antique rings vied for the attention of American and European collectors at Christie's New York on Dec. 18.
Frantic bidding greeted a stunning marble frieze from a "Muse" sarcophagus of the 3rd century A.D., so called because nine muses are depicted surrounding the deceased. This scarce item comes from the Lansdowne Collection in London were it had been since 1771. It was knocked down for $140,000 to a private U.S. collector, well above a high estimate of $90,000.
A large Etruscan statue of a man, made in terra-cotta and dating from the 3rd century B.C., sold to a European private collector for $85,000 (est. $40,000-$60,000).
A Roman marble torso of Dionysus was the third highest item in this sale. The 2nd century A.D.statue of the young god came in at $79,500, in the middle of its presale estimate of $70,000-$90,000.
Although bidding for these top items was high and intense, the sale could not sustain its momentum and brought only $1.8 million, selling barely 60 percent of its lots. Christie's next antiquities sale is scheduled for June at its new Rockefeller Center facility.
Christie's decorative arts and Tiffany, Dec. 10
Christie's Dec. 10 sale of 20th-century decorative arts brought a world auction record for a 20th-century chair when a European dealer bought an A. A. Rateau cast-bronze armchair (1919-1920) for $640,500, almost twice the high estimate of $350,000.
Another world record fell when a 1903 copper urn designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (1903) went for $288,500, almost three times its high estimate of $100,000. The buyer was the Dana Thomas House Foundation in Springfield, Ill.
The morning sale saw 148 of 211 lots go to buyers for a total in excess of $6,000,000. It included Josef Hoffmann side chairs, a lacquered cabinet by Jean Dunand, a Galle table lamp and a Galuchat low table by J-M Frank.
Christie's afternoon sale of Tiffany ceramics, clocks, enamels and all types of table and floor lamps as well as jewelry, silver and chandeliers proved a veritable Eden for sellers. Offerings were snatched up eagerly and 80 percent of the 171 lots sold. In the final accounting, more than $12,336,000 changed hands and three world auction records for floor and table lamps were established.
The sale was no doubt sparked in part by the definitive Tiffany exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum (to Jan. 31, 1999), as well as by the ever-increasing literature on the fabulous constructions and designs of the Queen's native son.
An army of prominent collectors such as Barbra Steisand, David Geffen and others from the world of entertainment as well as society figures both here and abroad have lent their aura to the Tiffany name.
World auction records fell for a "Magnolia" leaded glass and gilt-bronze floor lamp, another for an "Elaborate Peony Lamp" and a third for a "Dragonfly" leaded glass and bronze floor lamp.
While we know the provenance of the Magnolia lamp, the identity of the buyer at $1,762,500 is shrouded in mystery. This world-record Tiffany stands more than 79 inches high with a leaded glass shade, and is profusely decorated with magnolia buds and petals.
The leaded bronze and glass Peony Lamp went to a private American collector after a fierce floor and phone battle for $750,500, close to double the high estimate of $400,000. The shade does not represent a static plant as is customary with Tiffany but rather shows the flowers in motion, much like La Farge interpretations of peonies in Japanese scroll paintings. The 35-inch-tall lamp was last on the market in 1980, when it sold at Christie's for $24,000 (est. $20,000-$25,000).
A fruit leaded glass and bronze table lamp achieved the next highest bid of $530,500, slightly below the high estimate of $550,000. Its distinguished provenance includes the dealer Lillian Nassau and collector Burt Sugarman. Standing 28 inches on an adjustable base, the lamp glows with all the fruits of summer.
A spectacular necklace of black opal, garnet, sapphire and enamel designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany sold for $233,500 (est. $80,000-$100,000), a world auction record for Tiffany jewelry. Turning to Asia for inspiration, Tiffany based the shape of the pendant on an Indian lotus design. The necklace had been purchased directly from Tiffany and Co. and given to the present owner's grandmother by his grandfather.
This first-ever auction devoted exclusively to Tiffany designs attracted a truly international array of bidders. In total the two Dec. 10 auctions achieved $20,565,000 for Christie's, a sum previously unheard of in the 20th-century decorative arts category.