Published: December 11, 2007
On December 5, in a packed salesroom at Sotheby’s, the Guennol Lioness, one of the last known masterworks from the dawn of civilization remaining in private hands, sold for $57,161,000, a record for any sculpture at auction. That price also eclipsed the previous record for an antiquity at auction and more than tripled the presale high estimate of $18 million.
A total of five different bidders, three on the telephone and two in the room, competed for the 3¼-inch limestone treasure. After auctioneer Hugh Hildesley opened the bidding at $8.5 million, four bidders jumped into the fray. When the bidding reached $27 million, a new bidder, standing in the back of the salesroom, raised his paddle for the first time. An intense battle ensued between that bidder and one determined client on the phone. When Hildesley brought the hammer down to several rounds of applause, the successful bidder, who was standing in the salesroom, would only identify himself as an English buyer who wishes to remain anonymous.
The Guennol Lioness was created approximately 5,000 years ago in the region of ancient Mesopotamia. The sculpture was acquired in 1948 by Alastair Bradley Martin and his wife, Edith. The Guennol Lioness had been on view at the Brooklyn Museum of Art for nearly 60 years and extensively published. The proceeds of the auction will benefit a charitable trust formed by the Martin family.
The Guennol Lioness was included in a sale of antiquities, which brought a total of $64,955,839, the highest total ever for a sale in this category. A complete report of the sale will appear in a future issue.
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