ART MARKET / Funny girl with serious tastes: Barbra Streisand's passion for art nouveau and deco began when she was only 16. Her impressive collection is on sale this week. Geraldine Norman reports

THE FILM star Barbra Streisand is selling a huge chunk of her art collection at Christie's in New York this week. The public knows a lot about her singing and her acting, a good deal about her lovers and her marriage to Elliot Gould, and something of her political idealism and devotion to liberal causes - she sang at President Clinton's inaugural concert - but, until now, they have known little about her devotion to art.

The Christie's auction on Thursday and Friday will reveal that she began by haunting junk shops and buying old clothes, then graduated to art nouveau and deco. These two styles were upgraded from second-hand junk to desirable antiques in the Sixties - at just the time when Barbra started collecting. As she grew richer, her hobby turned into an obsession; she bought things because she had to have them, not necessarily because she had a place to put them.

Now she is moving on again, developing a new passion for sophisticated 18th- and early 19th-century American furniture - which echoes British styles but has an elegance all of its own. She has also begun collecting American arts and crafts from the turn of the century and American folk art. As the new furnishings move in, the art nouveau and deco have had to move out.

Streisand says she started collecting at 16 when she left school and lived in tiny New York apartments while attempting to break into the singing and acting scene. She decorated them from thrift shops on Second and Ninth Avenues with 'hand-crafted, beautiful beaded bags that I hung on the walls, along with empty antique picture frames, satin shoes and gorgeous buckles from the Twenties'. She wore her second-hand clothes in her early performances; an 1890s lace jacket she wore in her first show led her mother to berate her for 'singing in her underwear'. 'To me, my antique clothing looked like masterpieces,' Streisand says.

In 1964 she discovered Lilian Nassau, one of the first and most influential dealers in art nouveau. 'I was 21 years old. I went into her shop on 57th Street and my eyes just bulged out.' With the first money she earned from Funny Girl, her first Broadway show, she bought a sinuous and elaborately inlaid German art nouveau desk. It cost her dollars 2,800 and, as she had nowhere to put it, she asked Nassau to store it for her. It is estimated to sell at between dollars 12,000 and dollars 18,000 ( pounds 8,333- pounds 12,500) on Thursday.

It wasn't until the late 1970s that she began to collect Tiffany glass in a big way - one of the star features of the auction. This time she started at the top by purchasing one of the rarest of all Tiffany lamps for dollars 55,000; it is expected to sell for between dollars 800,000 and dollars 1m ( pounds 550,000- pounds 680,000) at Christie's this time round. Streisand describes the 'Cobweb' lamp as 'kind of ugly- great': 'I thought it was fascinating but it was dollars 55,000. Whoever spent dollars 55,000 on a lamp?' There was another coming up for sale at Christie's three weeks after she found her 'Cobweb' in Nassau's basement and, to her delight, it sold for dollars 150,000. 'Just a year later, Christie's sold another 'Cobweb' lamp for nearly dollars 400,000 and I was even more thrilled.'

Christie's sale of 'The Barbra Streisand Collection' is a cross between a connoisseur's dispersal and a house clearance sale. Streisand says she wants to simplify her life and, with a typical dramatic flourish, describes the sale as 'a cleansing of the heart and the mind and the soul'.

In fact, she had reached a situation where she was over-housed. In addition to her principal residence in Beverly Hills, she had an apartment in New York and, until last year, a 20-acre estate by the beach in Malibu with no fewer than five houses on it. She had bought the Malibu estate in the Seventies in partnership with her then boyfriend, John Peters, a film producer. When they split up she bought his share; she used four of the houses herself (occasionally) and put a caretaker in the fifth.

Last year she donated the whole Malibu estate to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy for use as a conservation institute; it was valued at dollars 15m, though the donation didn't cost her that much since it was tax deductible. Christie's has most of the furnishings in the sale. Most significant are the contents of the house Streisand completely remodelled and turned into an art deco showpiece. It took her five years: 'I was in between movies and I needed to exercise my creativity,' she explains.

A whole collection of Lalique glass comes from this house, including a set of nine panels of bacchantes that Lalique made for the Cote d'Azur Pullman express (estimate dollars 20,000-dollars 25,000/ pounds 13,600- pounds 17,000). There is also a painting of Adam and Eve by Tamara de Lempicka, the portraitist who was the darling of the art deco period (estimate dollars 600,000-dollars 800,000/ pounds 400,000- pounds 545,000), a bronze of Femme et Gazelles made by Jacques Lipschitz in 1912 (dollars 150,000-dollars 200,000/ pounds 102,000- pounds 136,000) and even two period cars: a 1933 Dodge (dollars 15,000-dollars 20,000/ pounds 10,200- pounds 13,600) and a 1926 Rolls-Royce (dollars 50,000-dollars 65,000/ pounds 34,000- pounds 44,200).

The best of the decorative arts in the sale, however, belong to the art nouveau period and were recently turned out of Streisand's home in Beverly Hills. She is redecorating with simple geometric American arts and crafts furnishings - she spent dollars 363,000 on a Gustav Stickley sideboard in 1988, the highest auction price on record for American arts and crafts furniture.

Christie's is offering a wealth of sinuous furnishings by Louis Majorelle and Emile Galle, the two great art nouveau designers from Nancy. There is also wonderful Galle glass and pate de verre by a range of turn-of- the-century glassmakers - glass that is modelled like clay and then fired. And finally, 19 spectacular lots of Tiffany metalware and leaded glass, including the 'Cobweb' lamp and a 'Peony' lamp estimated at dollars 300,000-dollars 400,000 ( pounds 204,000- pounds 272,000).

Christie's have divided the sale into two sections. Part one contains all the connoisseur's items and takes place in their elegant Park Avenue auction room on Thursday afternoon. The following day another 356 lots will be offered at Christie's East, their downmarket saleroom, tucked away on the east side of town - roughly equivalent to Christie's South Kensington in London.

The latter contains secondary objects and reproduction pieces. A lot of them come from Streisand's New York apartment, which she cleaned out a couple of years ago to make room for her new collection of 18th-century furnishings. It is at this sale that prices will primarily reflect the Streisand magic.

Bidders are offered the chance to acquire the first antique Streisand purchased, a Victorian walnut davenport (estimate dollars 1,000-dollars 1,500/ pounds 680- pounds 1,020), her Yamaha white lacquered upright piano (estimate dollars 2,000-dollars 3,000/ pounds 1,360- pounds 2,040) and a small group of her designer clothes: a Zandra Rhodes silk jacket and matching skirt (estimate dollars 800-dollars 1,000/ pounds 545- pounds 680), a collection of beaded gowns, one by Arnold Scaasi (estimate dollars 2,000-dollars 3,000), and 'assorted lounging robes' (estimate dollars 200-dollars 400/ pounds 135- pounds 270).

Streisand has retained the passion for clothes that began in the New York thrift shops of her youth. While her art deco house in Malibu was designed as a guest house, the cupboards in each room contained colour co-ordinated period clothes - which she loves too much to sell. She also hoards all her old costumes. It is almost surprising that she has brought herself to part with these few modern outfits.

(Photographs omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

music
Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

radio
Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
    Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

    Finally, a diet that works

    Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
    Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

    Say it with... lyrics

    The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
    Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

    The joys of 'thinkering'

    Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
    Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

    Monique Roffey interview

    The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
    DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
    Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

    How we met

    Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

    Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

    Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
    Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

    Who does your club need in the transfer window?

    Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month