Two very different examples of the influence that an association with a celebrity or a person of influence can have on the price of a work of art was apparent at two auctions held in recent weeks.
The first was the sale of a painting from the Estate of Brooke Astor by John Frederick Lewis titled A Memlook Boy, Egypt. Sold by Sotheby’s as part of their September 24-25 Property from the Estate of Brooke Astor sale in New York, the painting sold for 1,594,500 USD against an estimate of 300,000 – 500,000 USD.
Not since the art market boom of 2008/9 has a painting by Lewis excited such a high level of interest. The sixth highest price for a work by the artist sold at auction, A Memlook Bey, Egypt is no doubt a desirable Orientalist painting but would surely not have reached such a high price had it not been from the collection of the famous philanthropist and socialite Brooke Astor.
The auction record for John Frederick Lewis was achieved in 2009 with the artist’s The Kibab Shop, Scutari, Asia Minor which was sold by Sotheby’s New York. The second and third highest prices were achieved in 2009 and 2008 respectively.
Bonhams also leveraged the power of fame with their 2nd October 2012 sale of Islamic and Indian Art in London which featured a number of previously unknown paintings by the Turkish Princess Fahrelnissa Zeid (1901-1991). Known as an abstract painter of the Paris School in the 1950′s and 60′s, she blended the elements of Islamic and Byzantine art with western influences
The mother of Prince Ra’ad, the claimant to the Iraqi throne, Princess Fahrelnissa Zeid married into the Hashemite royal family of Iraq. Prior to marrying into royalty, Zeid was one of the first women to attend the Fine Arts Academy (Güzel Sanatlar Akademisi) in Istanbul after which she attended the Academie Ranson in Paris.
The collection of works by the late Princess came to light when a former employee of the family unearthed a box containing over 150 sketches, drawings, canvases, notebooks and letters, given to him when the artist moved residences.
Consisting of over 150 works by the artist, the private collection offered for sale by Bonhams was a huge success with every work from the collection finding a new home. The top lot of the sale was Zeid’s Emin Efendi Lokantasi which sold for £217,250 – the second highest price for the artist at auction
A new world record was achieved for works on paper by this artist, with Hotel Meguerditch Tokatlian at Therapia Bay, an ink and watercolor on card, selling for £26,000 on an estimate of £3,000-5,000.
The comment by Bonhams that “She (Zeid) was one of the most important and influential abstract artists of the 20th century having exhibited in Paris, Berlin, Istanbul and London” is perhaps a little (read: extremely) exaggerated. Although she was a competent artist, her royal status is sure to have contributed to her success as an artist.