ART MARKET; When Frank Sinatra auctions the contents of his lavish Palm Springs home next month, it will be a bonanza for him
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FRANK Sinatra, "Ol' Blue Eyes", "The Voice"; call him what you will, the most successful popular singer of the 20th century will be celebrating his 80th birthday on 12 December. To simplify his life, as anyone must at 80, he has sold off his estate in Palm Springs, California's desert resort for the super-rich. On 1 December, Christie's will auction in New York any house contents deemed to have a second-hand value. It will be a bonanza for fans.

Rancho Mirage, the Sinatra estate, was sold privately last summer for $4.9m (pounds 3m) to an unnamed billionaire. Christie's publicists described it as a "lush garden paradise situated on 2.5 walled acres, protected by an advanced security system." When Sinatra owned it, "a guarded electronic gate led to a formal motor court and a 12-car parking facility." There is no mention of the famous sign that Sinatra, the privacy freak, erected at the entrance: "If you haven't been invited, you better have a damn good reason for ringing this bell."

The estate, California-style, wasn't just one house but many separate pavilions scattered in a landscape setting. The main house had two master bedroom suites - "His" bath area included a steam shower, massage table, closet, built-in drawers, display and shelf space; "Hers" had mirrors, theatre lighting, four walk-in closets and a state-of-the-art gym. Guest pavilions were named after his most famous songs - "The Tender Trap" (built for President Kennedy); "Send In The Clowns" (with a 4,000sq ft cinema screening room); and "All The Way", Sinatra's own painting studio.

The musician is a keen amateur painter. One New York art dealer described him as "a very good modern painter in his class", adding that "he beats Winston Churchill hollow". Christie's isn't selling any of Sinatra's own paintings, but the auction overflows with amateurish modern pictures by unknown artists. The auctioneers have been driv-en to catalogue some of them simply as "American school, 20th century" or "French school".

There are lots of views of Paris, roughly in the manner of Utrillo; still- life paintings with strong black outlines in the manner of Bernard Buffet; and the odd decorative abstract, like Matthieu - art resembling the minor effusions of the school of Paris in the first half of the 20th century. This, presumably, is the kind of painting Sinatra likes. They are not expected to be expensive. A French Street Scene, signed "Y. Ferro" is estimated at $150-$200 (pounds 100-pounds 130) while a Young Boy with Big Blues Eyes, signed "Jane" lower right, is only $50-$60 (pounds 30-pounds 40). Christie's doesn't know whether the Sinatras were given these paintings, or bought them.

Indeed, Christie's staff seem reluctant to reveal anything about why Sinatra is selling, who bought what, or why. Sinatra's own publicity team in Los Angeles, Scoop Marketing, is no more forthcoming. Given all this, it is hard to tell whether the taste reflected in the sale is Sinatra's or that of his fourth wife Barbara, a beautiful model who was first married to one of the Marx Brothers - Zeppo, another Palm Springs resident. Sinatra first married his local sweetheart from Hoboken, Nancy Barbato, in 1939; then came Ava Gardner in 1951, Mia Farrow in 1966 and Barbara Marx in 1976.

The splendid group of impressionist paintings of New York, by early 20th- century American artists, are probably Sinatra's favourites; this is where Christie's is hoping for the biggest money. Early this century, many American artists who had studied in Europe were concentrated in New York. They painted cityscapes echoing Monet and Pissarro's views of Paris, while also reflecting the profoundly different spirit of the New World.

The star turn among Sinatra's views is West Shore Terminal, painted in 1913 by Leon Kroll and estimated at $50,000-$70,000 (pounds 30,000-pounds 45,000). It depicts trains puffing clouds of white steam in a snow-clad New Jersey landscape, in a powerfully impressionist manner. Colourful engines sparkle in the snow while in the misty distance, across the Hudson river, rise the skyscrapers of New York.

The memory of a snow-clad New York seems to have appealed to the Sinatras, especially viewed from the searing desert heat of Palm Springs. There are two exceptionally good city views in the snow by Guy Wiggins: The Flat Iron Building in Winter, seen through a veil of snowflakes - estimate $30,000-$40,000 (pounds 20,000-pounds 25,000) - and Old Trinity, a church surrounded by ghostly skyscrapers in thick snow - $35,000-$45,000 (pounds 20,000-pounds 30,000). There's a good pastel, The Park in Winter by Everett Shinn, with dark figures hurrying across the snow, bent double against the wind, and horse- drawn carriages struggling by in the distance - estimate $40,000-$60,000 (pounds 25,000-pounds 40,000).

The other expensive feature of the sale is a collection of Faberge boxes and other objects made from gold, silver and precious stones. A jewelled, two-colour gold box by Faberge, 312 inches wide, carries the top estimate at $100,000-$120,000 (pounds 65,000-pounds 80,000); the lid is set with a portrait of Tsar Nicholas II on ivory, within a wreath set with cut diamonds.

The Sinatras' friends were well aware of their taste, and gave them some classy curios. Lot 3 is a gold microphone cover studded with diamonds for Frank to croon into. It was a birthday present from the American TV comedian "Flip" Wilson, and is inscribed "To Frank from Flip 12.12.80". Christie's reckons it will sell in the $3,500-$5,000 (pounds 2,500-pounds 3,500) range. Another birthday present, from the proprietors of the Los Angeles restaurant Romanoff's, carries the same kind of estimate. It is a gold shoe-horn em- bellished with the initials "FS" in diamonds.

Some of the most expensive items are not even art. The Bosendorfer black lacquer grand piano was once the centrepiece of the Sinatra home - it was used for rehearsing and private concerts, and is expected to make $50,000-$70,000 (pounds 35,000-pounds 45,000). The Jaguar XJS two-door sports coupe given to Frank by Barbara as a wedding present in 1976 is estimated at $10,000-$12,000 (pounds 6,500-pounds 8,000), and the E-Z-GO golf cart, inscribed "Ol' Blue Eyes" on one side and "Lady Blue Eyes" on the other, complete with a superior stereo system, comes in at $4,000-$6,000 (pounds 2,500-pounds 4,000).

Finally, for the sake of his less well-heeled fans, there is some real junk - politely referred to by Christie's as "collectibles". It's the sort of stuff you find in the Oxfam shop - a silver-plated metal box with a floral pattern, estimate $40-$60 (pounds 25-pounds 40), for instance, or three silver- plated goblets inscribed "Good Health King Sinatra" - estimate $30-$50 (pounds 20-pounds 35). This is the area where prices will go mad, if previous celebrity sales are anything to go by. You could probably multiply Christie's estimates by 10 and be much nearer the mark.

The odds are heavily against the Sinatras turning up at the sale in person, to watch the fans competing for their old possessions. There are plenty more where those came from. Susan Reynolds of Scoop Marketing points out that they have two other houses in California - one of them in Beverly Hills and the other in Malibu, both "fully equipped". There's also the stuff they keep in their suite at the Waldorf Hotel in New York. Christie's will be mobbed, all the same. !