A Ford Family Estate Is Auctioning Off More Than 650 Treasures
In total, Ford’s estate will comprise about 650 lots, with an overall estimate in excess of $5 million.
“It was sort of a closed collection that we knew existed,” says Jonathan Rendell, Christie’s deputy chairman and head of sale curation. “We’re discovering this is an amazing group, right at the top, of decorative arts especially that no one’s had a chance to get their hands on for a long time.”
Single-owner sales along these lines are the bread and butter of auction houses—“if you look at Christie’s, it’s a history of collection sales,” Rendell says—but over the past few years, comparatively minor names have begun to yield major results.
The banner 2019 sale of Lee Radziwill’s effects (two pairs of her sunglasses sold for $2,750) can be explained by her proximity to her sister, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and certainly the runaway success of the prince and princess Sadruddin Aga Khan’s sale of decoration that once filled their Swiss mansion can be attributed to their global wealth and fame. But New York socialite Jayne Wrightsman was hardly a household name, and her October auction in New York sailed past its high estimate of $8 million, bringing in $10 million. A lot consisting of five of her wastebaskets, which carried a high estimate of $500, sold for $43,750.
Similarly, the art historian and socialite John Richardson was known among a certain well-heeled set. It’s unclear, though, if that set was bidding up a group of 10 tassels to $800 (high estimate: $200) at a Stair Galleries sale, or if they’re why an adjustable floor lamp that “will need to be rewired for use” went for $1,200, almost twice its high estimate of $700.
Most recently, Susan Gutfreund’s auctions at Stair Galleries and Christie’s continue to prove the point.
Her late husband John Gutfreund, the former head of Salomon Brothers, was certainly known among a Wall Street crowd, but for the last couple of decades the couple had kept a relatively low profile. Even so, her sales at Stair almost doubled their high estimate, and her sales at Christie’s did even better, totaling $8.8 million, with people bidding from 29 countries.
“People love things with associations,” Rendell says. “If you’ve got a great name and a story, you have people captivated, because the object fulfills two purposes. It makes you happy because it’s beautiful and it fulfills a need, but it’s also associated with another great collection, which positions your own collection in a different light.”
Forming the Collection
Ford’s estate sale could benefit from both her name and her story. The third wife of the industrialist, she split her time between a mansion in Palm Beach, Fla., the Belgravia apartment, and Turville Grange in Buckinghamshire after his death in 1987.
Many of the objects in the sale come from Henry Ford II’s collection. The London sale, Christie’s says, will include engraved silver from his yacht, the Sant Maria, though it hasn't yet disclosed its estimate.
”We’re still putting together the provenance lists for the sale, but a lot of things have Ford inventory numbers, which indicate they’re early-ish acquisitions,” says Rendell. Others were acquired as she decorated her homes with the assistance of interior decorators David Easton, Mario Buatta, and the firm of Colefax & Fowler.
There’s an extravagant clock from about 1791 made by Benjamin Vulliamy on a satinwood pedestal, which once stood in Henry Ford II’s house in Grosse Pointe, Mich., and subsequently was in Ford’s Palm Beach entrance hall.
Estimated at $250,000 to $400,000, “the most complete other version [of the clock] is in the Royal Collection,” says Rendell. “This was a pretty flashy object at the time it was made and remains a spectacular piece of furniture.”
There’s also a commode from 1765-70 attributed to the furniture makers Mayhew & Ince, which Rendell believes was constructed to accommodate its top, which is made from a slab of lava. Based on the work’s ownership history, Rendell speculates that the slab was acquired in Italy by the 18th century collector Charles Townley, whose collection formed a chunk of the British Museum’s Greco-Roman collection.
“He brought it probably from Pompeii, probably from his visit to Naples,” Rendell says, “and now it pops up in a dining room in Palm Beach after 250 years. Fantastic, no?”
Past Performance, Future Results
Some of Ford’s estate has already sold.
After she died in May 2020, Christie’s sold her jewelry in December for just over $2.5 million. In subsequent sales, $17.7 million worth of her Impressionist and modern art were sold, including a painting by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec that went for just over $9 million.
Just last month, Doyle sold almost 300 lots from Ford’s estate for $1.1 million, almost triple its pre-sale high estimate of $372,000.
“I’m fully aware of that sale, which is great for us,” Rendell says. “It tells you what the taste is for [her] particular name.”
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