Published: December 17, 2002
A World Record of $1.9 Million Buys an Icon of American Architectural Design
NEW YORK CITY — Considered an icon of American architectural design, a bronze and leaded glass table lamp by Frank Lloyd Wright established a world record price paid at auction at Christie’s on December 10. The lamp, selling just shy of the $2 million mark, not only established a record price for the artist, but also marked the second highest price ever paid at auction for a piece of Twentieth Century decorative arts.
Designed by Wright circa 1903, for the Susan Lawrence Dana house in Springfield, Ill., the lamp nearly tripled the previous record of $704,000 set at Christie’s in June of 1988 with the sale of a similar lamp designed for the Robie house.
The rare Prairie-style piece was one of two examples made for the Dana house and similar to a third example executed five years later for the Robie House. Provenance on the most recent lamp offered was from Susan Lawrence Dana to Charles C. Thomas, who purchased the house in 1942 after Dana’s health failed, where it has descended ever since. The home was acquired by the Sate of Illinois in 1981; the lamp however, was not included in the transaction.
Bidding on the lamp opened at $850,000 and soon crested the $1 million mark with action coming from a phone bidder against the house. At $1.4 million, new blood entered the competition as Stephen O’Brien, Jr, bidding from the rear of the room, joined the fray. The phone bidder immediately responded at $1.5 million and the bid went back to O’Brien at $1.6 million.
O’Brien, who was representing a client and was communicating with him via cell phone, cut the bid to $1.5,5 to which the phone bidder quickly retorted $1.6 million. O’Brien tried valiantly with two more bids, but the phone bidder won out on the lot with a final bid of $1.8 million for a sales total of $1,989,500 with premium. The phone bidder was not identified by Christie’s.
A complete review of the auction will appear in a future issue.
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