Published: November 11, 2003
The much-heralded auction of The Bill Blass Collection concluded October 23 at Sotheby’s with a total of $13,619,606.
Collectors, designers and art and antiques dealers, as well as friends and admirers of Blass, competed for a piece of the designer’s legacy, driving the total to more than double the $6/4 million high estimate, with 99 percent of the lots offered sold.
The results reflected the unerring taste of the arbiter of American style who died last year at the age of 79.
The proceeds of the sale will go to benefit the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York Hospital AIDS Care Center.
“What a great privilege it was to sell Bill Blass’s Collection. He was a wonderful and generous man and I only wish I had known him better,” commented Jamie Niven, vice chairman of Sotheby’s and auctioneer for the sale. “His impeccable eye as a collector was evident throughout, and the collectors and admirers responded with great enthusiasm from the opening of the reception to the very last session of the auction.”
The sale offered Blass’s exceptional and broad ranging collection of antiquities, English furniture, Old Master drawings, architectural models and drawings and other fine and decorative arts from both his house in Connecticut and apartment in New York.
Bidding was fierce across the board, with a pair of Russian ormolu and bronze two-light wall lights, circa 1880, attributed to the Kasli Foundry, bringing the top price of the collection. Estimated to sell for $20/30,000, collectors entered a brisk bidding battle driving the price for these whimsical bears, which once adorned the wall of Blass’s bedroom in New York, to $321,600.
During the evening sale on Tuesday, a marble portrait head of man, Roman Imperial, late First Century BC/early First Century AD, brought the top price of the session, $209,600, against a high estimate of $120,000 and Isamu Noguchi’s “Cross Form, Beginning Dance” from 1955-1958 sold for $153,600, well above the $80,000 high estimate. Taking center stage in the large-scale living room of Blass’s New York apartment was a pair of Regency and parcel-gilt daybeds, circa 1810, at $164,800, well above the $30/50,000 estimate.
Also impressive was a fine and rare Regency gilt metal mounted writing and reading stand, circa 1810, which almost certainly was formerly in the speaker’s house in the Palace of Westminster in London, that sold for $108,000 ($40/60,000); and a study for Perseus from the Perseus series, “Atlas Turned to Stone,” a gouache, ink and wash on brown paper by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, brought $142,400 ($25/35,000).
Blass filled his home with a vast, eclectic collection of eye-catching pieces, ranging from an Italian blue and white painted wood architectural model that sold for $102,000 ($20/30,000) to a large patinated bronze rendition of Napoleon’s column. This reduction of the celebrated monumental bronze, erected to the glory of Napoleon I in the Place Vendome, Paris, sold for $176,000 ($15/20,000).
Many lots throughout the sale sparked heated competition that drove the selling price to multiples of the presale estimates. Designs for the Outer Compartments of the Wellington Shield: ten drawings by Thomas Stothard estimated at $30/40,000, were competed for by multiple bidders and sold for $114,000. A William and Mary oyster-veneered laburnum linen chest on stand, $12/18,000, brought $84,000, and an unusual silvered-metal and petrified wood table in the form of a tree trunk, one of Blass’s favorite pieces and estimated at $7/9,000, brought $66,000.
Three additional works of art from the collection are being offered in other Sotheby sales. Pablo Picasso’s “Nu Couche,” a black chalk on canvas drawing ($5/7 million), was offered during an evening sale of Impressionist and modern art on November 5; Claudio Bravo’s “White Package,” an oil on chipboard ($90/120,000) will be with Latin American art on November 19; and a large-scale trompe l’oeil painting by Jacobus Biltius ($150/200,000) with important Old Master paintings on January 22.
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