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A Piece of the Legendary Versace: Auction Beats Estimates

The Neoclassical art, sculpture and furniture that formed the backdrop of Gianni Versace's lush life on Lake Como flew out of Sotheby's.

Sothebys

LONDON — The Neoclassical art, sculpture and furniture that formed the backdrop of Gianni Versace’s lush life on Lake Como flew out of Sotheby’s here on Wednesday, with sales hitting 5.4 million pounds, or $7.6 million at current exchange — more than double the auction’s presale estimate — halfway through the bidding.

The mood in the auction room at Sotheby’s New Bond Street was subdued, with mostly male dealers from Britain and the Continent in attendance. But no one was shy about splashing out for the more than 500 works featuring sculpted physiques, bulging muscles, delicate draping and some impressive Roman profiles.

The top lots rocketed far past their estimates, with two 19th-century stucco casts of Antonio Canova’s Pugilists fetching 433,250 pounds, or $607,000 — more than 10 times the catalogue estimate.

One of the Karl Roos cherrywood bookcases commanded five times its estimate, with a final price of 601,250 pounds, or $842,000, while the other outstripped its estimate by more than four times, fetching 481,250 pounds, or $674,000.

About 75 bidders filled the auction room seats, while about 25 phone bidders lined the side of the room.

During the morning bidding, David Tang, the socialite and entrepreneur who lives between London and Hong Kong, bought three lots: A set of 12 bronze busts of the Suetonian emperors; a set of 12 circular plaster panels depicting Neoclassical allegorical scenes, and two mirrors.

“I just blew 100 grand,” or about $140,000, he said on his way out of the auction. “I happen to be doing up a flat in Peking, and I thought it would be rather amusing to take some Versace there — everyone else seems to be doing it.”

A private collector who specializes in works from the Napoleonic era said on the sidelines of the auction that the Versace star factor was clearly at work, inflating the prices of the more ordinary objects in the sale.

“It’s surprising that 12 years after the death of Versace, people still want a piece of the lifestyle. Some of these objects are not even in good condition,” said the collector, who requested anonymity.

He was quick to add, however, that the collection as a whole had integrity. “It’s clear that Versace had a very good eye, and a knack for mixing the period with the modern. It’s also interesting that Versace kept this collection — and lived with it — unlike a lot of very wealthy people who do up a house in a specific style, then sell the furnishings and move on.”

Donatella Versace, who was in London this week to launch the 2009 edition of Fashion Fringe in Covent Garden (see related Fashion Scoop), told WWD on Tuesday that she did not plan to attend the auction.

The Versace family sold Villa Fontanelle, one of Gianni’s favorite retreats for more than two decades, last year for 35 million euros, or $46 million.

On Tuesday, Sotheby’s withdrew one of the most buzzed-about lots in the auction, a 1783 work by Johann Zoffany, called “Portrait of the Major George Maule,” a previously unrecorded painting by the German Neoclassical artist. Sotheby’s said in a statement there was a “question” over the painting’s “title,” but declined further comment. According to press reports here, the painting may have been stolen more than 30 years ago, well before Versace purchased it.

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