Sotheby's Most Incredible Objects, the Experts' View

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Launch Slideshow

As another year passes, another collection of fascinating and beautiful objects has passed through Sotheby's auction rooms. We asked some of the specialists across the departments to tell us a bit more about the pieces that were of particular significance to them: which had the best stories, which did they personally love the most, and which would they have taken home themselves if they could have. Click ahead to view the slideshow.

We are now inviting consignments for our upcoming auctions
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Sotheby's Most Incredible Objects, the Experts' View

  • A Monumental Roman Marble Portrait Statue of a Woman, circa 2nd Century A.D. Sold for £428,750.
    Richard Lowkes, Specialist, 19th Century European Department

    What was your best moment at Sotheby’s in 2017?


    The sale of Vilhelm Hammershøi’s White Doors, Strandgade 30 in our June auction. Coming from the estate of Danish designer Jens Risom, the painting more than tripled its estimate to sell for £1.45 million. It now hangs in the Ordrupgaard Museum in Copenhagen – a great museum just outside the city, with a collection encompassing French impressionism and artists such as Cézanne, Manet and Corot, and Danish art from Eckersberg to Hammershøi.

    Across all departments, which lot or work had the best story behind it?

    The four Roman marble statues of women from the Ancient Marbles auction in June. Dating from the 2nd century, the marbles came to adorn the swimming pool of a villa in Jamaica in the 1960s. The villa was even turned into a coliseum for a toga party in 1974.

    We are now inviting consignments for our upcoming auctions
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  • A magnificent Royal coat embroidered with Basra seed pearls, India, 19th century. Sold for £320,750.
    Roxane Zand, Chairman, Contemporary Arab, Iranian & Turkish Art.

    Across all departments, which lot or work had the best story behind it?


    I am naturally drawn to the magnificence and opulence of some of the Islamic works that come to us, so for me the Indian Pearl-embroidered coat that sold for a record price in our Oct 2017 sale was a special item. Thousands of pearls had been sewn into this extravagant, extremely heavy garment, conjuring the elevated status of the wearer who by definition would not have moved a limb nor finger as his immobility defined his high station. Everything would be brought to, and done for him, in keeping with the concept of virtual 'confinement' that Eastern aristocracy experienced. The coat fetched a resounding £320,750.

    Which jewel sold in 2017 would you have loved to own or give to a loved one and why?

    My own family have always been lovers of rings.  In Persian culture rings have a special significance as many myths and legends are attributed to them. Sapphires are considered to hold powers of good fortune for the wearer, and the simple, understated elegance of the sapphire and diamond ring sold in the May Geneva Jewels sale truly swept me off my feet. The simple shank set and the rich, beautifully reflective stone itself was dazzling, and I would have given it to my late grandmother whose own diamond set sapphire ring was given to me at my wedding.

    Read more:
    A Coat Fit for a Prince

    We are now inviting consignments for our upcoming auctions.

  • Tsuruko Yamasaki, Untitled. Sold for £200,000.
    Boris Cornelissen, Specialist, Contemporary Art.

    Across all departments, which lot or work had the best story behind it?


    We sold two works in 2017 that I was particularly excited about, and which will hopefully contribute to addressing the gender imbalance in the art market. The first one was a painting by Tsuruko Yamazaki, a lesser known female member of the Japanese Gutai group, that we sold in March 2017. Her works from that period had never been up at auction, and the painting was conservatively estimated at £12,000–18,000. The owner had bought it as an investment for a rainy day years ago before the Gutai artists became fashionable, and like us didn’t really know its value but felt it was the right time to sell. It went on to make £200,000 – more than four times the previous record for the artist.

    The other work was by an artist called Evelyne Axell, who has never sold outside of Belgium. I came across her work in a valuation and noticed that the Tate Modern had bought one of her works the year before. I asked the Belgian team if they knew of any works that we could go after, hoping it might be a market we could build up and take a strong position in. Within a month they came back with one of the artist’s better early works, and we finally convinced the owner to sell by putting the work on the cover of the catalogue of our Contemporary Curated sale in November, where it sold for £100,000 on an estimate of £40,000 – 60,000.

    Both these sales demonstrate how strong our influence can be in developing an artist’s market, but also how underrepresented (and undervalued) many female artists are compared to their male contemporaries.

    We are now inviting consignments for our upcoming auctions.

  • Yayoi Kusama, Untitled (Chair).
    Marina Ruiz Colomer, Specialist, Contemporary Art.

    Across all departments, which lot or work had the best story behind it?


    Again, hard to pick only one, we have had fantastic works come up across all departments. If I had to choose a contemporary work I would say Yayoi Kusama’s Untitled (Chair), which we included in Traumata. That chair was used by Kusama in one of her performances in 1968, and there are pictures of her and other performers dressed up in her iconic polka-dot clothes posing with it! Finding those pictures and knowing that an object we were seeing and selling was a key prop in some of the most important Happenings in 1960s New York was amazing. The consigner of the chair had found it at a vintage shop, where he bought it for very little money! The shop owner clearly didn’t know what he had, most of the objects dating from those years were destroyed or lost, and many are in museums, so it was a truly great find!

    Of the lots sold this year across all departments, which would you have personally loved to take home and why?

    I would have taken the Miró Constellation that we sold in our Impressionist Evening Sale in February, that was perfection.

    Which jewel sold in 2017 would you have loved to own or give to a loved one and why?

    I would have loved to own Shaun Lane’s Coiled Corset (or almost any of his creations really), and there are a couple of Marina B chokers that I would give to my mum so I could “borrow” them from her!

    We are now inviting consignments for our upcoming auctions.

  • A Highly Important And Extremely Rare Ru Guanyao Brush Washer, Northern Song Dynasty.
    Sold for 294,287,500 HKD.
    Andrew Fletcher, Head of Auction Sales, Old Master Paintings.

    What's coming at up Sotheby's (sales, lots, auctions or anything else) in 2018 that you're most excited by and why?


    We have a fantastic Old Masters sale in New York. One of the lots, by Titian, was in the collection of Charles I, just like the Salvator Mundi that just sold for $450m. In 1650, at the time of the valuation of the collection after Charles had been beheaded, the Salvator Mundi was valued at 30 pounds. The Titian we are selling was valued at £100 so on that basis we are expecting a price of a shade under..... $1.5 billion!

    Across all departments, which lot or work had the best story behind it?

    It has to be the Song dynasty Ru Ware dish that we sold in Hong Kong in October. I love the fact that in 2017 something like that is still available, against all the odds. Already by 1192 (100 years before the world of Western Old Masters had even begun!) you have a well-known source describing Ru Ware as 'very difficult to obtain' and by 1388 another source saying it has 'virtually ceased to exist'. I loved the apparent simplicity of the object and the extraordinary depth and detail of its surface. When I view those sales I am always reminded how in the world of western art we put so much commercial emphasis on the identity of the author; whereas for Chinese objects it tends to be all about the beauty and craftsmanship of the object itself. I think it is better that way round.

    We are now inviting consignments for our upcoming auctions.

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