This Fuddling Cup Confused 17th-century British Drinkers. Sotheby’s Could Sell it for $6,000.

10003 lot 696 fuddling cup

What you see: A white delftware fuddling cup made in London and dating to the mid-17th century. Sotheby’s estimates it at $4,000 to $6,000.


The expert: Richard Hird, specialist in the ceramics department at Sotheby’s.


This piece is known as a “fuddling cup.” What does “fuddling” mean here? It means to confuse or intoxicate the person who was handling the object.


Does the finished form tell us anything about how the cup was made? I don’t think anyone knows for certain, but the vessel was probably made in a two-part mold, and the entwined clay handles were probably twisted by hand and applied to the vessel. It’s quite a simple thing to make.


Where was it used? It could have been in a private home, but it was very much a tavern object. It was a drinking game. It was certainly meant to be in a tavern setting.


How did the drinking game work? There’s some speculation here, but each container would be filled with a different kind of alcoholic drink, and it would be shaken until they were blended. The object was to try to identify each spirit in each vessel.


How do the spirits mix? When you look at it, you can’t quite see it, but within the three chambers there’s a hole that connects all three together. It looks like three separate cups, but they are connected by the hole into one big cup. You have to really look in there to see the piercing. The bulbous shapes in the lower part is where they touch, where the hole has been made.


The cup is pretty small, measuring three and a half inches tall. But do we know how much liquid it could hold? I don’t know, and I don’t know if there were specific measurements like that. Fuddling cups all tend to be small-size. They don’t get any bigger than that.


How do we know that the fuddling cup is probably from the mid-17th century? So far, there are nine recorded with inscribed dates. The earliest is 1633, and the latest is 1649. They probably contain [were probably made in] the second half of the 17th century, but we don’t have dates.


Were fuddling cups popular then? It’s hard to judge. It’s a rare object, but they do appear at auction almost annually. Quite a few survive, but a lot were probably lost as well. It was quite a popular drinking game.


The cup is white, with no decoration. Is that typical? I guess it is typical, in a way. You do find them decorated in blue, in chinoiserie style. Having it painted would be more expensive, and it was for a tavern. White was the cheapest option, in that sense.


What condition is it in? I see some chips in the glaze here and there. The chips are actually a good sign. If there were no chips, you start to question the age of the object. It’s over 200 years old. It has to have signs of age. If it’s perfect, it would raise questions. And it does have some restoration around the rim of one of the vessels.


This was a novelty object. Does its having been restored matter less to a collector? I wouldn’t say so. Early 17th century objects are rare and becoming rarer on the market. People are starting to turn a blind eye to issues because they don’t come around that often.


Does it show any signs of wear on its interior? No, but it’s quite unusual to see that. On something this small, the vessel spout is probably two centimeters in diameter. You can’t put much in there.


Is the fuddling cup connected at all to puzzle jugs? I think so. I don’t know if you’d find a puzzle jug that early in the 17th century, but it’s the similar idea of a tavern game and confusing the user.


Do collectors see fuddling cups as art objects, or do they try to use them at least once? I think they do see them as art objects, but I’d be tempted to try to use it to see how it would work.


What is it like to hold this cup in your hands? It’s a very light object. It almost fits in the palm of one hand.


How to bid: The fuddling cup is lot 696 in The Collection of Anne H. & Frederick Vogel III sale, taking place January 19, 2019 at Sotheby’s New York.


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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.


This is the closest I’ll get to showcasing a jigsaw puzzle on this blog, so here’s a shout-out to my faithful suppliers Chris at Serious Puzzles and Andy at Eureka! Puzzles & Games in Coolidge Corner in Brookline, Massachusetts. Thanks!


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Folk Art Phenomenon: Christie’s Could Sell Ammi Phillips’s “Girl in a Red Dress with a Dog” for $1.2 Million or More


What you see: Girl in a Red Dress with a Dog, a portrait that American folk artist Ammi (pronounced Ah-mi) Phillips painted circa 1830-1835. Christie’s estimates it at $800,000 to $1.2 million.


The expert: John Hays, deputy chairman, Christie’s Americas.


I’d like to start with some discussion of how Ammi Phillips was recognized and discovered. It seems like he could have disappeared, or far less would be known, if scholars had not done incredible work with identifying paintings by him. There’s a long version and a short version. The short version is like many painters who were not in the annals of art history, he was not known until people started piecing together his work in the 1960s. It was a grassroots effort. It was Mary Black who galvanized the research being done. Ammi Phillips: Portrait Painter, 1788-1865 was a pioneering exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum in 1968, and it traveled around. [Scholars] figured it out [what was his] because he depicted sitters holding newspapers and he signed some of his work. The family histories of the sitters also helped piece together the show. He was prolific. As the count began, they realized he did a few thousand portraits.


The lot notes call Girl in a Red Dress with a Dog a “quintessentially American work of art” and “strikingly modern”. What makes it so? Every country has its folk art, painted by people who didn’t go to the national academy. What makes it quintessentially American is he was painting Americans–successful sitters who were documenting their lives. The other aspect that makes it quintessentially American is [the notion that] time is money. The quicker he was able to render a portrait, the quicker he was on his way.


And what makes the portrait “strikingly modern”? Stacy Hollander [of the American Folk Art Museum] did a show in 2008, The Seduction of Light: Ammi Phillips | Mark Rothko Compositions in Pink, Green, and Red that showed the urge to modernity, the idea of reduction to the pure form. Isn’t it interesting that it started in 1830? If you look at the dress [the sitter in Girl in a Red Dress with a Dog is wearing], it’s geometric forms with little lines, a broad expanse of red. It’s a knockout, a home run. There’s no question what the statement is–a girl in a red dress. It looks forward, but it distills the form to the essence of the form. That’s an idea that the Color Field artists Clyfford Still and Rothko [embraced]. Phillips did it from a more economic point of view, but he succeeded.


Why do his portraits of children perform so well at auction? Phillips is at his best with children because there were no rules [for painting them]. A lot of Phillips works are dour. Some of his sitters are ministers and older people with bibles in their laps. With children, he captures the spirit of young America. That’s where he hits the home run, and that’s why there’s a huge price difference with the artist. Depicting a child evokes much more.


The lot notes also refers to ‘record-breaking sales in the 1980s.’ Could you elaborate? Phillips did a group of four children in red dresses, three girls and a boy, with their hands almost in the same positions. One was discovered in an appraisal day at the Corcoran Gallery in 1984. I was here [at Christie’s then]. We looked at it. The family didn’t know what it was. It was over their fireplace. By that time, the [groundbreaking 1968] Ammi Phillips show had happened, and we knew what it was. We put it in [a 1985 Christie’s auction] with an estimate of $60,000 to $90,000 and it sold for $682,000. It went to Dan Terra of the Terra Foundation. It made the front page of the New York Times. The other known portrait [of a girl sitter from the foursome, aside from this one], Girl in Red Dress with Cat and Dog, was bought by Ralph Esmerian for the American Folk Art Museum. [After the 1985 sale], the owner [of this portrait] called us and said, ‘We think we have one.’ That’s how we discovered it 33 years ago. We’ve been quietly hoping it would come out one day.


That must have been delightful and startling, to have a folk art portrait sell for so much in 1985. You could acquire a major Impressionist picture [for $682,000] at that time. I put the Phillips in a jewelry vault that night. We were not prepared to have it sell for that price.


What makes this portrait so strong? It captures the essence of what folk art collectors want and what they look for. It’s hard to define it in words, but it has a universality to it. It’s just riveting, and kind of mesmerizing. You say, ‘God, he gets it.’


Do we know why the girls in the Phillips red dress portraits are wearing coral necklaces? Did coral have some sort of symbolic meaning in America in the 1830s? Coral necklaces were very popular in the 1820s and 1830s. In this portrait, she holds a bead of coral as if she’s a little nervous. She seems to say, ‘Hurry up and finish this picture, why am I here?’ As for iconography, there’s nothing we’re aware of. Coral was fashionable at the time for teething rings. The three girls [in the group of red dress portraits] each have a coral necklace. The one at Terra has two strands, this one has three strands, and the one at the American Folk Art Museum has four.


What is she holding in her left hand? It could be parsley. The girl in the Terra portrait is holding a strawberry. They [the items the child sitters hold] all have coded iconography that you could linger over. But it could be something Phillips gave her to hold while he painted her.


And what’s with the dog at the left? Is that her dog? The beagle is in all four of these portraits. Maybe it’s Ammi Phillips’s dog. Maybe it’s for the comfort of the child.


Yeah, about that. One of the skills Phillips had to develop as an itinerant portrait painter was to convince small children to sit still long enough for him to do his work in an age before screens. Might the dog have played the role that a screen would now–helped entertain the kid and keep her sitting in one place? It’s an idea, and it’s the same stylized beagle [in the four portraits], with the spoon-shaped lozenge on the forehead. I have a beagle. I know beagles very well. He captured the essence of a beagle, and its wry smile. If you have a beagle, you’d recognize it too.


I take it we don’t know who the young sitter is, even though scholars have tried to identify her? Yes. She’s adorable, that’s all I would say.


Is it possible that the three girls in the group of four red dress portraits are sisters or cousins? Initially we thought, ‘Are they sisters?’ But there are little differences, actually very subtle differences. The idea that they’re related is not ruled out at all. There are many unanswered questions.


The portraits in the group of four show kids in a virtually identical red dress. Is there a chance that Phillips traveled with the dress, as part of a small wardrobe, and offered it to the parents to use for the sitting? That’s an interesting idea, but the thing that emerges from Phillips is a spontaneity. It’s the quickly-rendered moment that folk art collectors love so much. A portrait was for a wealthy client that he poured his heart into would be worth a fraction of those that he did more quickly and got down to the essence.


What’s the world auction record for a Phillips? Portrait of a Young Girl and her Cat, which we sold in 2007 for $1.2 million. It’s a great picture, but it’s not in the narrow group of four. It’s one of 11 he did of children in red dresses. The girl [in the portrait sold in 2007] has a different stance.


What are the odds that Girl in a Red Dress with a Dog will meet or beat that sum? To be really candid, that’s the one question I can’t answer. I’m as intrigued as anybody to see what will happen in January.


What is it like in person? It has what my colleagues in fine art call “wall power.” It just jumps off the wall. It makes everything around it pale.


Why will it stick in your memory? For me, personally, I was here when we sold the first one, and it changed a lot of things in my life. It makes me reflect on the last 33 years in the art world, and how exciting it’s been. Not every day does an Ammi Phillips girl in a red dress cross my computer screen. And it expresses a sort of humanity that the experiment of America allowed. I dare you to tell me where such a portrait has emerged in any other country. That’s why I do what I do. It’s unique to portraiture in this country.


How to bid: Girl in a Red Dress with a Dog is lot 1205 in the Important American Furniture, Folk Art, Silver and Prints auction taking place at Christie’s New York on January 17 and 18, 2019.


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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Christie’s.


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RECORD! Christie’s Sold the Rockefeller Emerald in June 2017 for $5.5 Million, a Price-per-carat Record

Rockefeller emerald in ring shot from the side sold Christie's June 2017

What you see: The Rockefeller emerald, an 18.04-carat gem set in a platinum and diamond ring designed in 1948 by Raymond Carter Yard. Estimated at $4 million to $6 million, it sold at Christie’s New York in June 2017 for $5.5 million. It set a world auction record for a price-per-carat for an emerald.


The expert: Angelina Chen, senior vice president and senior specialist in Christie’s jewelry department.


I’d like to start by talking about Yard and the Rockefeller family. How did they help Yard? How does this emerald ring show how they trusted him and his artistry? We always run into people who have a personal jeweler, someone you like and trust and who shares your vision. Marcus & Co. was the firm that the Rockefellers started with. As Raymond Carter Yard moved up the ranks at Marcus, they realized he was very talented and had shared views. The emerald was in a Van Cleef & Arpels brooch originally. They [the Rockefeller family] took it apart and gave the largest [stone] to David [Rockefeller]. They could have given it back to Van Cleef & Arpels to remount, but they gave it to Yard to do it.


You said you were surprised that the Rockefellers didn’t ask Van Cleef & Arpels to remount the components of the brooch. What did you find surprising about that? Typically when you buy something from the original house and take it apart, you go back to the house and ask, “Can you refashion it for me?”


Were the Rockefellers taking a risk in bringing the stone to Yard rather than going back to Van Cleef & Arpels? In a way, but the Rockefellers wanted their own vision and their own design. Van Cleef & Arpels is a French company. Yard was much more American.


And Yard created this ring in 1948? Probably the early 1950s. It says 1948, but ultimately, it might be one or two years later.


Where was Yard in his career by that point? He had set up his store in 1922, so he was pretty established by then.


What marks this ring as a Yard design? Also, was it considered cutting-edge in its time? I wouldn’t call it cutting-edge. It’s very minimalist for its period in some ways. He toned down everything else and put the focus on the stone. The lines are very clean and very modest. The emerald is at the center of attention. It’s beautifully made. I love the fact that the side diamonds are trapezoidal in shape–so unromantic, but they flank the emerald beautifully. They slope down just right so the emerald pops up.


I see he used platinum for the setting metal. Was that a cutting-edge choice in 1948? No, not at all. Platinum was well-established. It’s the metal Yard always worked in. Anything white would be platinum.


How rarely does an emerald of this size–18.04 carats–come to auction? The size is not so rare. What makes it rare is the lack of treatment. You rarely see emeralds over 10 carats with no enhancement.


What does “treatment” mean when we’re talking about emeralds? Usually that means it’s oiled with cedar oil. It makes the emerald’s crystal structure shine a little bit better. That’s a tradition from eons ago. It’s quite a porous stone. Opticon is a man-made material [that accomplishes much of what cedar oil does].


Do these treatments make an emerald more stable and less likely to chip? It all adds to it, yes. Emeralds are more fragile than other gemstones, but still wearable.


How can you be sure the emerald wasn’t treated? We sent it to two labs because it’s such an important stone. The provenance chain is good, but we always send it to two labs to certify it. [This time it was] Gübelin and AGL [American Gemological Laboratories].


Do we know when the emerald came out of the ground? No, there’s no notation for that at all. AGL said it was a “classic Colombia”. When “classic” precedes a Colombian stone, it alludes to the fact that it’s from an old mine source. It’s probably early 20th century or so. I’d be uncomfortable calling it before 1900.


What condition is the emerald in? It was in great condition. It wasn’t worn every day. It wasn’t chipped or anything like that when we received it. There’s always some wear and tear, but that’s from normal wear.


What is the inherent value of the emerald? What would it be worth without the Rockefeller provenance? The stone itself is an important stone. It’s 18-plus carats and it’s very clean, a beautiful color, a classic Colombian–that’s important in and of itself. It would have gotten a page in in the catalog [without the provenance]. Rockefeller adds a premium to this. I don’t know what the multiplier is, but I saw the Rockefeller sale, and it sold extremely well.


On the inside of the ring I see something that looks like a brace. What is it? It’s a ring guard. A lot of times when you have a ring, it tends to roll around. This is a grip so it won’t roll around so much.


Did you try it on? I did. [Laughs,] It’s wonderful to have a rare gem on your finger. It’s special. It’s stunning. Anything that’s rich in color like this, it’s very different. Color tends to elicit a different emotion for sure, and you can’t help but think of where this ring has been.


The size of the stone isn’t awkward on your hand? The rule of thumb is it’s never too big. Eighteen carats is not too big. It’s very wearable, not ostentatious.


What was the bidding like? It was definitely longer than a minute. Only a handful of collectors would be bidding at this level. The ones who were not prepared to go to that level left quite quickly. One of the bidders was in the room and another was on the phone. It was tense. The winning bidder was in the room.


The Harry Winston company revealed itself as the winner. Do we know what its plans are for the ring? Harry Winston is famous for buying famous gems. If they got an offer they couldn’t refuse, I wouldn’t be surprised if they offered it in a Winston setting.


How long do you think the price-per-carat record for an emerald will stand? What could challenge it? That’s the best part of my job. I discover things all the time. I never know what’s going to come up.


So you’re not aware of anything out there that could come forward and sell for more? Not that I know of, but you’ll be the first to know.


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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Christie’s.


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RECORD! “The Foot” from the Opening Credits of a 1971 “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” Special Stomps to $22,000 at Vectis Auctions


What you see: The Foot, a key paper cutout element used in the opening credits of a 1971 one-off Monty Python’s Flying Circus television special that was filmed in German. The piece may have been used in the opening credits of the main series. Vectis Auctions sold it for £16,800 (about $22,000) against an estimate of £400 to £600 (about $525 to $800) in July 2014. It’s a world auction record for a prop used to create the Monty Python’s Flying Circus television show.


The expert: Kathy Taylor, a specialist in the Vectis TV and Film Department.


Are you aware of any other Monty Python’s Flying Circus props coming to auction before Vectis sold The Foot? It’s unknown. I did try to research it when I received The Foot, but I couldn’t find anything. There have been animation storyboards on occasion, but nothing like this.


How did The Foot come to you? David Brookman [the consigner] telephoned us. He saw an article in the Sunday supplement about Vectis Auctions and he approached us with the idea that he could sell it. It was a piece of photographic paper, rolled up in a tube that he kept under his bed since he worked on the animation in 1971.


How did Brookman come to receive The Foot? He worked for a company that was asked to do the shots for the animation [of the one-off 1971 German-language special]. I think it was quite a brief time he worked with Terry Gilliam, a couple of days. When they finished, Gilliam asked would he like it, and he signed it. It was quite tatty.


We know The Foot was used for the opening credits of the German-language special, but was it used to film the credits for Monty Python’s Flying Circus? We don’t know for certain. I suspect a lot of these cutouts don’t survive. They were used and thrown away. Gilliam would rush in with a briefcase or a box of cutouts, tip everything out on the desk, and instruct the cameraman [who, in this case, was David Brookman] to photograph them in a certain way to make the animation. That’s why it’s so tatty. It’s seen quite a lot of life.


Do we have any idea how many photographic cutouts Gilliam made of this element of his animation? No idea. Maybe he has more than one. I don’t know if he kept others.


And Brookman kept The Foot in a tube under his bed until he brought it to you? It was probably in that state when he was given it. I don’t think he thought much about it. He unrolled it and it was quite large. I think it was two feet by 18 inches. It was quite fragile. He came up with the idea to frame it, to make it look a little better and to preserve it.


How did you come up with the estimate of £400 to £600? I’m guessing there were no similar things that sold at auction that you could look to… We had no idea what sort of money it could fetch. I thought £400 to £600 was a lot of money for a tatty bit of rolled-up paper, but it’s an iconic image we all remember. The sum was his expectation. We asked, “What’s the least amount of money you’re prepared to part with it for?” If it had achieved £400 to £600, he would have been happy.


What was your role in the auction? I was on the phone with a bidder. There was quite a lot of interest in The Foot. A lot of people thought they could afford it. People turned up in the room to bid, but they all dropped out. It did go to a telephone bidder.


What was your reaction to the sale of The Foot–watching it climb from three figures to five? It was pretty crazy [laughs]. Absolutely crazy. I wondered who these people were who would want it. Some were connected with Python. The vendor [Brookman] was sitting there going a very peculiar shade of pink.


I imagine you thought it would beat its estimate, maybe double or triple it, but you didn’t think it would go for £16,800… No, never in a million years. But it was lovely for the vendor, who looked after this thing all those years and never imagined it was worth that sort of money.


Why will this piece stick in your memory? Because it came from out of the blue, as things do here. I was twelve when Monty Python was popular on TV. We would reenact it at school. It was pretty amazing handling something that was so iconic and part of my youth and which we think of with such affection. The actual value of this piece is its strong provenance. To actually have someone consign who worked with Gilliam–there’s nothing better.


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A local English paper covered the July 2014 sale of The Foot and included an image of David Brookman holding the framed piece. It is surprisingly large.


Terry Gilliam lifted The Foot from a circa 1545 painting by Agnolo Bronzino most commonly known as Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time. It’s in the lower left corner.


Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Vectis Auctions.


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See My New Column at “Art & Object” Magazine: “Sold!”

A&O decadent mancave whiskey Macallan.png

What you see: A bottle of Macallan 1926 60 Year-Old, handprinted by Irish artist Michael Dillon. It commanded £1.2 million ($1,530,484) at Christie’s London in late November, and it’s the lead story of my new column for Art & Object magazine.


Read my first Sold! column:


Follow Art & Object on Twitter and Instagram.


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The Hot Bid Year in Review: The Ten Most Popular Posts of 2018



The ten most popular posts on The Hot Bid that went live in 2018 are… [supply your own drum roll, please]


10. Become Technology’s Greatest Visionary! Prop Store has the Picturephone from “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse,” which could sell for $15,000.


9. A powerful set of prints by Harlem Renaissance artist Aaron Douglas could command $30,000 at Swann.


8. Sold! Man Ray’s 1938 London Transport poster fetched the Way Out price of $149,000 at Swann. [Editorial note: At some point in fall 2018, I started doing a separate update post for featured lots that sold. This is one of several posts where I updated the original with the final price.]


7. WHOA! Sotheby’s sold Canova’s rediscovered “Bust of Peace” for more than $7 million.


6. A grand souvenir of the Grand Tour: Christie’s could sell a circa 1835, 61-inch-tall bronze model of the Vendôme Column for $60,000.


5. RECORD! A unique tile panel by ceramics wizard Frederick Hurten Rhead commands $637,500 at Rago.


4. TIE! Heritage Auctions sold an original Sunday Christmas-themed Peanuts strip from 1958 for $113,525, tying the world auction record.


3. RECORD! Heritage Auctions sold an original 1983 panel from Gary Larson’s The Far Side for $31,070–an auction record for the comic strip! Also, quack!


2. No one can do what British potter George Owen did. No one. A covered vase he made in 1913 could sell for $21,000 at Bonhams.


And the most popular post that went live on The Hot Bid in 2018 is… pictured above, and linked below.


RECORD! Hake’s Americana & Collectibles sold a 1978 Star Wars Obi-Wan Kenobi for $76,000–an auction record for any single production action figure.


Special thanks to Alex Winter and all at Hake’s Americana & Collectibles for allowing the re-use of the Obi-Wan Kenobi figure image.


And of course, special thanks to every reader of The Hot Bid! I’m grateful for every one of you, and I hope that 2019 treats you all well.

The Hot Bid Year in Review: The Ten Featured Lots that Sold for the Most in 2018

Canova, The Bust of Peace (side)


Usually, when I feature a lot on The Hot Bid, it sells. Here are the ten featured lots from 2018 that sold for the highest sums. All prices given include the relevant premiums.


10. Whoa! That Elmer Crowell preening black duck decoy flew away with $600,000 at Copley Fine Art Auctions–double its high estimate!


9. A clear winner indeed! Ceruti’s 18th century portrait on glass sold for $615,000–more than double its high estimate–at Sotheby’s.


8. RECORD! A piece of Thomas Stearns’s glass masterpiece sold for $737,000 at Wright–a new auction record for the artist. [Note: This is the first of three items featured on The Hot Bid in 2018 that went on to set world auction records.]


7. SOLD! Sotheby’s sold Richard Feynman’s 1965 Nobel Prize for Physics for… $975,000.


6. SOLD! Christie’s auctions a Ming Dynasty six-poster Huanghuali bed for an eye-popping $1.9 million.


5. SOLD! Christie’s sold the 1903 Maxfield Parrish for… just over $2 million.


4. RECORD! Stack’s Bowers Galleries sold Louis Eliasberg’s 1913 Liberty Head Nickel for $4.5 million.


3. SOLD! Zhang Xiaogang’s Bloodline: Big Family No. 9 commands $4.8 million at Phillips.


2. RECORD! A Dutch silver masterpiece by Adam van Vianen sells for $5.3 million at Christie’s.


And the item that went on to become the most-expensive lot featured in 2018 is… pictured at the top and linked below.


Whoa! Sotheby’s sold Canova’s rediscovered Bust of Peace for more than $7 million!



Special thanks to the kind folks at Sotheby’s for permitting me to re-use the image of the Canova bust.