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Billionaire Safra’s Commodes May Fetch $40 Million at Sotheby’s

Japanese Lacquer Commode
A Louis XVI-era, ormolu-mounted Japanese lacquer commode with secretaire, attributed to Adam Weisweiler. It sold for $6.9 million at Sotheby's. Source: Sotheby's via Bloomberg

Billionaire banker Edmond J. Safra and his wife, Lily, lived with regal lavishness before his death in a Monaco fire in 1999.

Now the couple’s dining chairs, 18th-century commodes and soup plates are heading to the auction block as part of a four-day, six-part sale Oct. 18-21 at Sotheby’s in New York.

With more than 800 lots, “Property From the Collections of Lily and Edmond J. Safra” is expected to tally more than $40 million.

This is the second sale of possessions from the Safras’ homes in the U.S., Switzerland and France. The first took place in 2005 and totaled $48.9 million.

Born in Beirut, Edmond J. Safra founded Republic New York Corp. and Safra Republic Holdings SA. In 1999, he sold his holdings in both companies to London-based HSBC for $10 billion. He supported educational, cultural, religious and medical causes around the world.

“Bringing together works of art to create beautiful collections has been one of the passions of my life, one that I shared with my husband, Edmond,” Lily Safra said in a statement. “In the years since his passing, I have focused more of my energy on the work of the Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation. So I feel it is now time to allow others the opportunity to enjoy these treasures, with the hope that they will inspire new collectors as they have inspired me.”

European Dealers

“It’s an extraordinary sale,” said Bernd Goeckler, a New York antiques seller, who previewed the works over the weekend. “It has some of the finest continental furniture. European dealers will be coming to take things home.”

The priciest item by estimate is a Louis XVI-era Ormolu-Mounted Japanese Lacquer Commode with secretaire valued at as much as $7 million. The pair of ebony and gilt pieces depict spare landscapes that seem to glow against the black background. They feature bronze, marble, granite and oak. They will be offered on Oct. 19.

A set of 19 red dining chairs and one armchair, made in the style of George II around 1735 in London, could bring as much as $1.2 million.

A painting by the 19th-century Frenchman James-Jacques-Joseph Tissot, “Sur la Tamise (Return From Henley),” which depicts an attractive woman stepping off a boat, may fetch $1.5 million to $2.5 million. The work last appeared at auction in 1985 when it sold for $407,000, according to

Russian Porcelain

The Safras amassed one of the largest private collections of Russian porcelain, silver and enamel. On Oct. 18, one highlight will be a pair of vases decorated with portraits of Alexandra Fedorovna (the doomed wife of Russian Emperor Nicholas II) and her father, King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia. Its presale estimate is $1.5 million to $2.5 million.

More affordable is a pair of Faberge silver candelabra in the Neoclassical style, with an estimate range of $40,000 to $60,000.

Want to eat like a king? There is plenty of porcelain that was given as gifts to and by various European royals. One soup plate decorated with pretty pink flowers belonged to Empress Elizabeth of Russia, who founded the Imperial Porcelain Manufactory in 1744. Accompanied by a little spoon, it could fetch $20,000 to $30,000.

The Safras also collected 19th-century European interior paintings and 100 of them will be offered on Oct 18. One highlight, a watercolor by Britain’s Benjamin Walter Spiers, depicts a room overflowing with prints, drawings, painted porcelain, arms and musical instruments. Inspired by William Makepeace Thackeray’s poem “The Cane-Bottom’d Chair,” it depicts “a snug little kingdom” of a collector’s paradise.

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