March 19, 2009 / 12:31 PM / 10 years ago

Sotheby's Versace villa sale beats estimates

LONDON (Reuters) - Sotheby’s may have withdrawn one of the star lots amid suspicions it was stolen.

People view a cast of Canova's wrestlers at a display of the fashion designer Gianni Versace's property collection at Sotheby's in central London, in this recent photo from March 12, 2009. REUTERS/Toby Melville

But that did not prevent the auctioneer raising 7.4 million pounds ($10.4 million) from its London sale of the contents of late Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace’s Lake Como villa late Wednesday, roughly three times expectations.

“With heated bidding ... extending beyond 12 hours, the day sale turned into an evening sale too,” said Mario Tavella, deputy chairman of Sotheby’s Europe.

“Gianni Versace’s passion for collecting ranged from contemporary masterpieces by artists he supported and with whom he developed friendships to the neo-classical works combined to create his own personal Arcadia at Villa Fontanelle.

“Sotheby’s ... sales of his property, of which this is the last, are true testament to his eclectic taste, eye for beauty and creative genius,” Tavella added.

The top lots were two Italian cherry wood bookcases by Karl Roos which fetched 481,000 and 601,000 pounds versus pre-auction estimates of around 80,000 and 90,000 pounds respectively.

The bookcases, which adorned Versace’s villa bedroom, were originally commissioned by Princess Pauline Borghese, sister of Napoleon Bonaparte, for the Library at Palazzo Borghese in Rome in 1814.

Another highlight was a pair of life-sized casts of Antonio Canova’s wrestlers, which sold for 433,000 pounds or more than 10 times their high estimate.

The success of the sale, which had been expected to raise around 2.5 million pounds, came despite the late withdrawal of a recently discovered portrait by 18th century German artist Johann Zoffany.

The “Portrait of Major George Maule,” expected to sell for 40-60,000 pounds, was removed after a direct descendent of the subject of the portrait contacted the Art Loss Register, which tracks lost and stolen art and antiquities.

The descendent saw a photograph of the “vanished” work in London’s Evening Standard newspaper and the Art Loss Register is helping the family unravel the picture’s provenance and establish its rightful ownership.

The Versace sale underlines the popularity of personal collections associated with famous names, even as values for art generally have fallen sharply amid global economic weakness.

Sotheby’s rival Christie’s recently sold the art collection of late French designer Yves Saint Laurent for $475 million.

(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)

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