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Brooke Astor Auction Prices Soar Past Presale Estimates

'A Memlook Bey, Egypt'
"A Memlook Bey, Egypt" (1868) by John Frederick Lewis. Estimated at $300,000 to $500,000, the oil on panel painting sold for $1.6 million. Source: Sotheby's via Bloomberg

Sept. 26 (Bloomberg) -- The tally for Sotheby’s two-day auction of Brooke Astor’s gems, paintings and hundreds of other objects soared past estimates to total $18.8 million.

The auction house had assigned a high presale estimate of $9.7 million to the 901 lots in “Property From the Estate of Brooke Astor.” The sale included pieces from Astor’s former Park Avenue duplex and her Westchester mansion, Holly Hill.

Not much was left behind as 95 percent of the lots found buyers. The proceeds will benefit Astor’s favorite charities, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Public Library, the Animal Medical Center and New York schools. Astor died in 2007 at the age of 105.

The top lot was “A Memlook Bey, Egypt,” an 1868 oil on panel by John Frederick Lewis, which sold for $1.6 million, more than three times its high estimate of $500,000. (The prices include the buyer’s premium; the estimates do not.)

A drawing by Giovanni Antonio Canal, known as Canaletto, sold for $1.2 million, surging past its presale estimate range of $300,000 to $500,000.

“The Deer and the Lady, with Punchinello” by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo brought $722,500, also surpassing its high estimate.

Items that seemed like bargains before the sale quickly rose in price. A giltwood box shaped as a pile of logs was estimated between $200 and $400; it sold for $21,250. A small ivory elephant adorned with rubies, emeralds and gold fetched $68,500, more than 10 times its low estimate.

A lot comprising two Chinese famille-rose boxes and covers of the Qianlong period fetched $494,500, almost 50 times the low estimate of $10,000.

‘Her Provenance’

A bronze figure of a six-headed Tibetan deity that was expected to sell for $2,500 to $3,500 went for $134,500 Monday at Sotheby’s.

“I was going to bid on it, but it went through the roof,” said Philip Marshall, Astor’s grandson. “It’s her provenance.”

Astor loved dogs and her numerous dog paintings attracted active bidding. In all, 73 lots of dog paintings totaled $816,130, more than double their combined high estimates.

A picture of a thoughtful spaniel estimated between $4,000 and $6,000 fetched $37,500. An 18th-century portrait of a black-eared dog sold for $53,125, above the high estimate of $20,000. “King Charles Spaniel With a Red Slipper,” painted in the 19th century, went for $13,750, more than tripling the high estimate.

Ivan Turgenev

More than 6,000 books from her two libraries tallied about $147,000. A lot containing about 700 volumes from her New York apartment by mostly 19th-century authors, including Sir Walter Scott, Ivan Turgenev and Honore de Balzac, fetched $74,500, almost 15 times the high presale estimate. Astor’s books from Holly Hill were divided by subjects such as science, world travel, New York City and poetry. About 860 volumes of art and architecture books sold for $17,500, against the presale estimate range of $1,500 to $2,000. A lot of 57 cooking books fetched $5,313, 35 times the high estimate of $150.

A Bulgari diamond necklace featuring 13 emerald drops sold for $686,500. It had a high estimate of $350,000. An enlarged photograph of Astor wearing the necklace while standing next to former President Lyndon B. Johnson at a Plaza Hotel dinner dance was hung in the salesroom, along with photos of Astor and former President Bill Clinton and Princess Diana.

Muse highlights include Manuela Hoelterhoff on opera, Ryan Sutton on dining.

To contact the reporters of this story: Katya Kazakina in New York at; Philip Boroff in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at

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