Published: March 15, 2022
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Photos Courtesy Sworders
STANSTED MOUNTFITCHET, U.K. – Celebrity sales bring their own special cachet and interest by fans to an auction house. That was the case on March 2, when Sworders offered 126 lots in “The Douglas Fairbanks Jr Collection.” About 84 percent of the lots crossed the block successfully and the sale raked in a total of nearly $113,000. While the total may not be tremendously high as far as single-owner sales goes, the benefit of international exposure that typically brings new clients to an auction house and often sows benefits the house will reap for years to come.
We reached Sworders’ head of art and estates, Luke Macdonald, by Zoom nearly a week after the sale wrapped for his thoughts.
“It was really good. It wasn’t a massive total but there was lots of interest, particularly international interest. Things really came along online.”
The top lot in the sale was not a piece of Fairbanks family history or memorabilia from Fairbanks’ (1909-2000) Hollywood career; instead, it was a watercolor of tulips by Rory McEwen (1932-1982), which brought more than eight times its high estimate and sold to a British trade buyer, underbid on the phones, for $32,646. The work, measuring 17-1/8 by 11 inches, had been painted in 1954 and owned by Fairbanks at The Boltons, his home in London’s Kensington neighborhood.
Another lot that had been at The Boltons and sailed past expectations was a visually arresting pair of Regency spoon-back chairs with parcel gilt frames that a Bond Street dealer pushed to $14,156, more than three times its high estimate.
A piece that received among the highest estimates was a Swiss or German Hanau four-color gold minaudière that was dated to circa 1820 and had a later Russian standard mark for 1908-1917, and a later lift-out minaudière insert; it had been given to Douglas Fairbanks Sr and Mary Pickford and was engraved “Fairbanks.” A buyer in New York City prevailed against direct competition from a Latvian bidder, to take the approximately 3½-by-2½-by-¾-inch hinged box to $12,257.
Personal family pieces were led at $10,704 by a portrait of Fairbanks’ second wife, Mary Lee Epling that had been painted in 1935 by American painter Louis Betts (1873-1961). A London interior designer prevailed on the 40-by-30-inch oil on canvas of Epling in a red dress, which had been conservatively estimated at $400/600.
Macdonald said that the family was “mighty pleased” at Sworders’ results and said there were rumors swirling around – unconfirmed at press time – that more from Fairbanks’ collection would be coming to auction.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium and have been converted into US Dollars based on the conversion rate on the day of the auction.
For additional information, www.sworder.co.uk.
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