Art Market: Mozart's most revealing composition fails to sell

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The Independent Online
BUYERS were yesterday unmoved by the romantic tale behind a letter penned by Mozart, which failed to make the pounds 35,000 that Sotheby's had expected.

In it, Mozart unwittingly revealed his secret love affair. When he wrote to his father - enclosing part of his latest opera, Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail, to give him an idea of the work - little did Mozart realise that the back of the sheet bore the handwriting of Constanze, his lover and wife-to-be.

To Leopold Mozart's eyes, she was too young and too flighty for his son. In July 1781, Mozart denied to his father that there was any truth in the rumour of their relationship; although there is no reference to it in any of his letters to his father, it was over the next few months that it flourished. It is believed that this letter, written in September with the first aria from Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail written by Constanze, must have aroused Leopold's suspicions. By December, Mozart had come clean, openly declaring his love for Constanze. The rest is history.

In the same sale, however, a photograph of Mussorgsky, the Russian composer best-known for his opera Boris Godunov, broke the record auction price for a signed photograph of a composer. As the only autograph material by Mussorgsky believed to have come on to the market, the pounds 29,900 price is a record for any Mussorgsky documents.

Sotheby's said that the paucity of material relating to him is perhaps partly explained by the fact that not only was he not prolific, but he was a notorious drunk. The photograph, estimated at up to pounds 9,000, was inscribed with an musical quotation from the opera Sorochinsky Fair.

Sotheby's and Christie's were on a high yesterday after their respective contemporary art sales achieved figures about which they long ago stopped dreaming. International collectors were in the mood to spend, paying well over estimates for top- and middle-range works by the big names of modern art. Relatively few of the items at either auction house failed to sell.

At Sotheby's, an abstract by Gerhard Richter, the German artist born in 1932, sold for pounds 397,500, against an estimated pounds 150,000 to pounds 180,000. A Francis Bacon self- portrait diptych made pounds 353,500, within estimate; and Lucio Fontana's La Fine Di Dio, one of his slashed egg-shaped canvases in a range of colours, went for pounds 320,500, against an estimated pounds 140,000 to pounds 180,000.

A crucifixion made of wood, leather and, not least, dried sausage, by Joseph Beuys, the German artist who sculpted with found objects, sold for pounds 56,500, within estimate. The artist once said: 'My objects are to be seen as stimulants for the transformation of the idea of sculpture.'

Among the most desirable artists at Christie's was Dubuffet. Deux Figures dans un Paysage, painted in 1949 - two years after he organised an exhibition that reflected his interest in art produced by children, the mentally handicapped and psychotics - sold for pounds 517,000.

(Photographs omitted)