THE FIRST auction spectacular of 1993 was the five-day dispersal of furnishings from the villa of the late Ilhamy Hussein Pasha at St Jean Cap Ferrat, France, which realised Fr76m (pounds 9.5m) from 14-18 March; the estimates had been half that.
The pasha was a well-born Turk who went in for marrying well - first an Egyptian princess then an American millionairess. He died last October, aged 84. His taste combined French 18th-century furnishings with a mix of modern pictures and Old Masters. A pair of ormolu mounted chests, attributed to the greatest French cabinetmaker of the early 18th century, Charles Cressent, made the top price at Fr8.88m (pounds 1.1m).
Very indifferent paintings - the pasha sold his best pictures before he died - reached their estimates, but it was the goldsmith's art that turned in the most astonishing prices, coupled with ormolu mounted Chinese porcelain which was selling to Taiwan and Japan. The auctioneer, Jacques Tajan from Paris, talked of a 'boom' in English silver. A set of four Paul Storr wine coolers of 1807, engraved with the arms of the English royal family, sold for Fr1.332m (pounds 166,000).
The sale of furnishings from the homes of an unnamed, recently deceased Middle Eastern potentate, held by Jean-Louis Picard in Paris on 7 March, had provided a foretaste of the prices secured for the pasha's pieces. That sale made Fr23.7m (pounds 3m), with only 1 per cent unsold.
Off-beat fields were a striking feature of auctions in March. Baseball cards and sports memorabilia sold by Sotheby's in New York; a private collector spent dollars 74,000 (pounds 49,300) on an uncut sheet of 25 portrait cards of 1934 baseballers. An auction of modern sporting guns at Christie's in London was a sellout; only once or twice a year does any sale score 100 per cent. In Paris, the archives of the movie director Abel Gance (1889-1981) were sold for Fr1.8m (pounds 225,000); Gance made J'Accuse and more than 100 other films. National libraries bought 73 per cent.
British institutions also made their presence felt in the market. The National Portrait Gallery bought two masterpieces by the relatively obscure Victorian artist Jerry Barrett at Christie's.
Queen Victoria's First Visit to her Wounded Soldiers from 1855 cost pounds 199,500 (estimate pounds 80,000 - pounds 120,000), while The Mission of Mercy: Florence Nightingale receiving the Wounded at Scutari was sold for pounds 188,500 (estimate pounds 120,000 - pounds 180,000).
At Sotheby's a watercolour by the 20th-century bird painter Archibald Thorburn cost pounds 111,500; Swerving from the Guns - Red Grouse almost doubled the previous record for his work. Of 119 of his paintings from the Thorburn Museum, Cornwall, only one went unsold.
Sotheby's also sold a Japanese sword, made in 1839 by Yamaura Masayuki, for pounds 265,500, while the London dealer Eskenazi set a new auction record for a lacquered medicine box, at pounds 52,100.
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