Under the hammer – Fab Four Auction Sales

Four breathtaking slots that wowed bidders at recent auctions are highlighted. These include a gorgeous vivid coloured diamond, a beautiful gilt-bronze monkey, a fantastic Ferrari and a landscape masterpiece.  

Blue Beauty: Vivid coloured diamond takes bidders’ fancy

A famous blue diamond worn at the 2023 Met Gala by actress Priyanka Chopra Jonas instigated an intense bidding war at Sotheby’s, propelling the final price to balloon above US$25 million (HK$196 million). Laguna Blu, a rare pear-shaped fancy vivid blue diamond of 11.16 carats, had headlined a Bulgari high-jewellery necklace at the gala, but it was auctioned in Geneva as the original ring designed by the Italian jeweller in 1979, set between tapered baguette diamond shoulders.

The exceptional value of a vivid blue diamond reflects, in part, the extraordinary circumstances of their creation. These stones are formed deep below the earth’s mantle, and the disturbance of the crystal lattice is critical in determining their colour. Any traces of boron within the pure carbon structure of the diamond will result in varying shades of blue – enough boron in the stone and the diamond attains the highly prized ‘vivid’ category. Less than 1% of stones achieve this colour, and fewer still have no tint of another colour as coloured diamonds often show some kind of tint of another colour. The price the diamond achieved at auction is an indication of its rareness.

Bronze Prize: Million-pound monkey sitting pretty

A beautiful gilt-bronze monkey by François-Xavier Lalanne fetched £1.25 million (about HK$12.3 million) at auction in London with bidders stirred by the rare opportunity to obtain one of the French sculptor’s iconic animals. Singe Alternatif SIII was created in 2007, a year before Lalanne’s death, and was one of two Singe (Monkey) figures up for auction at Christie’s – his Singe Alternatif SIV realised just over £1 million.

Animal motifs were integral to Lalanne’s art and formed a substantial part of his oeuvre. Their symbolism captivated him, and he was particularly enamoured with the sheep and the monkey, which he would depict far from their natural habitats. His Singes, smiling serenely, sit atop tables and mantelpieces.

Lalanne developed a love for sculpture as a young man when, as a security guard at the Louvre, he would wander the Antiquities galleries and study the statuary of Ancient Egypt. It was from works like The Seated Scribe and Toth as a Baboon that he gained knowledge and inspiration which undoubtedly shaped his sculptural vocabulary. Only two gilt-bronze pairs of Singes have previously been offered at auction, once in 2020 and again in 2022.

Street Art: Camden crescent masterpiece a big hit

A new auction record for a work by figurative painter Frank Auerbach was set at Sotheby’s Modern and Contemporary evening sale in London. Mornington Crescent sold for £5.6 million (about HK$55 million), comfortably surpassing its high estimate of £4.5 million.

Painted in 1969, Mornington Crescent is considered one of Auerbach’s most epic and ambitious landscape works. At 101.4 cm by 152 cm, it is also one of his largest and is firmly rooted in both a geographical and psychological sense of place – in this case, the street in Camden, north London, where the artist has his studio. Scaffold-like bars of paint form rigid structures dramatically conveying a recreated image of the urban environment.

The 92-year-old Berlin-born British painter had a good evening at the ‘Britain’s Visionaries’ auction. All three of his works up for grabs exceeded their estimates: besides the lively bidding that Mornington Crescent sparked, E.O.W. on her Blue Eiderdown VII fetched £4.5 million and J.Y.M. Seated II went for £1.1 million. He has long been fascinated by the subject of Mornington Crescent and the housing developments which started in the 1820s.

Horse Power: Rare Ferrari races to auction record

The sale of a 1967 Ferrari 412P Berlinetta was a major coup for Bonhams Cars, notching up a whopping US$30.25 million (about HK$237 million). About 1,000 people jostled in the Quail Lodge & Golf Club grounds in Carmel, California, for the best view of a racing car that became the fourth most valuable Ferrari sold at auction and raked in the highest-ever price for Bonhams’ motoring division.

Part of its appeal was undoubtedly its rarity – only two 412Ps were built from scratch. Furthermore, a nine-year-long renovation project restored this beautiful vehicle to its original glory so it could hit the open road. “Thanks to its devoted lineage of owners and the stewardship of its seller, the 412P stands as an enduring piece of art that honours the Ferrari legacy,” commented Bonhams specialist Rupert Banner.

The car has a strong racing history, roaring to third-place finishes in 1967 at Le Mans and the 1000 km of Spa, and seventh spot at Brands Hatch. The following year, it triumphed at the Norisring Nuremberg 200, Solituderennen and Swedish Grand Prix. The car comes with a 5-speed manual transmission and 4-wheel disc brakes.