Versace London Art Sale Beats Estimates, Fetches $10.5 Million

Artworks belonging to the late Gianni Versace sold at a London auction for more than twice the presale estimate, the second time in a month the public sale of a famed fashion designer’s items had defied the economic slump.

The 545-lot sale of the contents of Villa Fontanelle, Versace’s early 19th-century mansion on the shores of Lake Como, fetched 7.4 million pounds ($10.5 million) last night, against a presale top estimate of 2.8 million pounds. All except nine lots found buyers during the 12-hour auction hosted by Sotheby’s.

Estimates do not include buyer’s commission.

“There were some special things, but prices were way over the top,’’ said U.K. collector Charles Pearsall-Horner, who buys classical souvenirs bought by 19th century visitors to Italy.

The sale follows Christie’s International’s record 373.9 million-euro ($503 million) late-February auction of French designer Yves Saint Laurent’s art collection, affirming buyers’ appetite for objects whose owners are seen as arbiters of fashion or taste.

“This was the last opportunity to buy objects that had been bought by Gianni Versace’s eye and heart,’’ said Mario Tavella, an Italy-based Sotheby’s deputy chairman. Versace’s clothes were a favorite with celebrities such as Princess Diana.

Versace, shot dead at 50 on the steps of his Miami home in July 1997, had decorated his Italian home in the opulent neo- classical “Empire’’ style typical of the era of French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. The Lake Como house was sold last year by Versace family members, who also consigned the auction items, said Sotheby’s.

Wrestler Statues

Some lots at the Versace auction sold for many times their estimates. A pair of 4-foot-high plaster statues of wrestlers copied in the mid 19th-century from originals by neo-classical Roman sculptor Antonio Canova sold for 433 250 pounds to a phone buyer, against a presale top estimate of 40 000 pounds.

A dozen phone bidders competed for a lot of 12 assorted busts of Roman emperors in plaster and marble, valued at between 1000 pounds and 2000 pounds; they sold for 39 650 pounds.

Before the sale began, 500 potential buyers had placed more than 2,000 individual bids with Sotheby’s.

“Quite a few of the bidders knew Gianni. Others wanted to buy a certain taste with the reassurance it had come from a style icon,’’ said Tavella. The top lots went to old-school European collectors, while a number of the less-expensive items sold to Russian clients, said Tavella.

Napoleon’s Sister

The auction’s top lot was the larger of two gilt-mounted cherrywood bookcases commissioned by Napoleon’s sister, Pauline Borghese and designed by the French imperial cabinetmaker, Karl Roos, which fetched 601 250 pounds. The smaller one sold for 481 250 pounds. Both items, used to furnish the library of the Palazzo Borghese in Rome, were bought by the same phone bidder.

Before the auction, Sotheby’s withdrew a portrait by the 18th-century painter Johann Zoffany of Major George Maule, a British colonial officer also known as “chief engineer of Madras,” after Maule’s descendants registered its theft, the Independent reported. They had contacted Art Loss Register, which traces stolen works, claiming the painting had been stolen 30 years ago before Versace bought it, said the U.K. paper.

The auction was the fourth and final Versace sale held by Sotheby’s. In 1999, the company sold the designer’s collection of artworks by Pablo Picasso, followed by the contents of Versace’s Miami mansion and New York town house in 2001 and 2005 respectively. Proceeds from the auctions, held in New York and London, exceeded 38 million pounds, said Sotheby’s.

Sotheby’s charges a premium of 25 percent on the hammer price up to and including 25 000 pounds, 20 percent up to and including 500,000 pounds, and 12 percent over 500 000 pounds.

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Published in: on March 19, 2009 at 9:15 am  Leave a Comment  
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