Nureyev's treasures likely to raise £3m

Row over dancer's will culminates in an exotic auction. By Marianne Mac donald
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The Independent Online
One of the most important and controversial celebrity auctions yet seen by the art world takes place this week, when Rudolf Nureyev's treasures go under the hammer at Christie's, New York.

It will be the Russian dancer's final bow. Proceeds of the sale of paintings, furniture, textiles and books from his New York apartment in the Dakota building on Central Park, and ballet costumes, prints, and furniture from his Kensington flat in London and his French properties will endow two dance foundations - in America and Lichtenstein.

It was the sale that might never have happened. The dancer, who had Aids, died in January 1993, leaving his estate to the Rudolf Nureyev Dance Foundation in Chicago and the Rudolf Nureyev Foundation, with headquarters in Zurich.

It was no mean gift. Nureyev made an estimated £10m-£15m after defecting from the Soviet Union in 1961.

Brought up in poverty and penniless on arrival, he amassed a fortune in fees as a dancer, choreographer and director. At his prime he is said to have been the highest paid performer in the world.

But with the reading of his will, the battles began. Nureyev's sister Rosa and her daughter, Gouzel, initially opposed attempts by the foundations to sell any objects, arguing the will requested they be kept together for display in a memorial museum.

Others pointed out that the extent of Nureyev's possessions - held in houses and apartments round the world: not just New York and Paris, but London, Nice, Monte Carlo, on an island off Tuscany and in a house on St Barts in the Caribbean - would make it impossible to fit them into one building.

But the family's protests resulted in the French authorities sealing off Nureyev's lushly furnished Paris apartment, decorated with painted panels and 18th-century oil paintings of the male body.

The Chicago foundation eventually came to an agreement with the relatives, allowing this week's sale on Thursday and Friday to go ahead. But the Zurich organisation has yet to agree the disposal of the treasures in the Parisian flat on the Quai Voltaire.

This week's sale of objects from New York and London is estimated to fetch £2.2m-£3.2m. The majority will go to the Chicago Foundation because the most valuable lots come from the dancer's flat in the United States.

On offer are dozens of tunics, each estimated at about £2,500, from the huge variety of productions in which Nureyev danced, in materials ranging from silk and velvet to stockinette and cloth-of-gold.

Friday's sale features the heavyweight paintings and furnishings: a Fuseli, Satan Starting From the Touch of Ithuriel's Lance (estimated at up to £460,000), a Reynolds portrait of George Townshend, Lord de Ferrars (up to £300,000), and the Roman marble torso of the Diadumenos of Polykleitos, which stood in the centre of Nureyev's salon in the Dakota (up to £330,000).

There are other superb objects: medieval maps, Jacobean oak settles and tables, African bracelets, 18th-century beds, Renaissance tapestries, harpsichords and kilims - the range and beauty of his possessions was endless.

"In terms of celebrity sales, it's the most important we've ever had," said David Llewellyn, of Christie's in London, who has helped to organise it.