What you see: A white, clear, and amber chandelier, measuring ten feet tall, five feet wide, and four feet, eight inches deep, made by Dale Chihuly in 2004. Rago Auctions sold it in June 2015 for $200,000 against an estimate of $60,000 to $80,000.
The expert: Suzanne Perrault, partner and co-director of Rago’s 20th and 21st century design department.
How did this chandelier come to be? Was it a commission? Is it unique? It is a commission, and it is unique. The chandeliers usually are. These weigh hundreds of pounds, and they’re not technically chandeliers–they’re glass sculptures. Each is unique, but Chihuly has made quite a few of them.
Where was it displayed originally? It was for a residence in New York City. I came to have it because a gentleman who bought the house with the piece in it had a three-year-old son who was terrified of it. He contacted us about selling it.
How did you sell this huge, fragile chandelier? Did you bring it to the sale room? We didn’t put it up in the auction house. It’s pretty much the only thing we’ve sold by a photo only. It was available to be seen in situ in New York. We had a banner of it made to scale to hang in the gallery.
Was it tricky to sell it largely on the basis of a photo? Yes and no. There are so many items people buy without seeing in person. A lot of people seem to be comfortable with that. I always encourage people to see things in person, but of the four who saw the chandelier in person, none bought.
Just how fragile is this chandelier? The glass in these is considerably thicker than other Chihuly glass. It’s definitely sturdier.
The colors of this chandelier are white, clear, and amber. How did that affect its value? It’s actually white, clear, and gold. It has done considerably better than multicolor ones that have sold subsequently. It’s pretty fancy. It may look a little plainer in the photo than in reality.
Have other Chihuly chandeliers gone to auction? How did they do? Chandeliers are the pieces by Dale Chihuly that bring the most. The closest price was $158,500 at Heritage in Texas in May 2013. Another at Wright didn’t sell.
What condition was this one in? It’s hard to tell, and it’s kind of irrelevant. When the chandelier is designed, it’s always an organic process. There’s no finite number of elements going in. The person putting it up for the original purchaser asks them if they have enough elements, or if they want it fuller. If the client insists, elements can be replaced by the Chihuly studio.
How many elements does it have? About 700 pieces, and it took about a week to install [in the home of the winning bidder].
What was your role in the auction? I was calling the auction. There was tremendous interest in the lot.
What stands out about the experience of selling it? When the underbidder asked me to go for a half-bid, and I said no.
What’s a half-bid? Bids go up by increments that are codified in the catalog. They go up by a certain amount until we hit a cap. Maybe we’d gotten to $150,000, and maybe he said give me a half-bid when it should have been $10,000. It could have been that. The people who bought the chandelier were very grateful, and it cemented our friendship after that. I hate half-bids. These are lovely items. No one really needs them. They’re luxuries. I don’t think half-bids are fair to other bidders who are willing to go to the full increment. There were many underbidders.
How many bidders were in the hunt? We started with ten, which is a lot for piece at that level. And you should know about the chandelier–it is quite large. There are not a lot of places that can afford [to set aside] that kind of space, and it’s expensive to put up. There’s one company Chihuly recommends and will stand behind [to install his works], and it’s done a ton of them. The company needs to be there many days. It’s a big job, and it’s costly. This is not like buying a sculpture that’s ready to put on a center table. It’s a lot more complicated.
How long do you think the record will stand? I have no idea. There’s quite a few of these Chihuly chandeliers. There’s a spectacular red chandelier in a home in Philadelphia that overlooks the city. It’s right there in the middle of the room, and it goes from the ceiling almost all the way to the floor. It looks like an upside-down Christmas tree. It’s magical. How much would that do? I don’t know. That’s the magic of auctions.
What is this chandelier like in person? It’s lovely. It’s so wonderful because of how they [the winning bidders] set it up. It’s in a four-story house which is industrial and modern, all glass and steel. You walk up the stairs, which curl around this piece. It’s a real show-stopper. It couldn’t look any better. It was meant to be there.
Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Rago Auctions.
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