Discovering that “diamond in the rough” is one of the thrills of collecting art and bidding at an auction. There is the tale of John Paul Getty who, in 1963, sent a “Madonna and Child” — believed to be by an unknown artist — out for cleaning, only to find that it was a long-lost masterpiece by the Italian Renaissance superstar Raphael.
One recent discovery at an international auction house was a work first attributed to “the Netherlandish school” and with an estimated value of $20,000. It turned out to be a Rembrandt and featured a self-portrait of the artist as a young man. It eventually went for $2 million.
Of course, the most famous example of a painting with a second, far more valuable, life is the “Salvator Mundi.” It was rediscovered as a genuine Leonardo da Vinci, restored and ultimately became the world’s most expensive painting, when it was auctioned off in 2017 for $450 million, or almost half a billion dollars.
There are a few such captivating stories emerging at the recent León Exchange online auctions, thanks to the number of pieces from estate sales of renowned collectors. The treasures therefore come “pre-curated,” or selected by the former owners’ practiced eyes.
These included a marvelous jade vessel and a pair of bone-ivory mandarins, both from the sitting rooms of well-known mansions, which always give bidders a glimpse of their value.
Ifugao bululs and archangels were unexpected hits.
A set of Filipino wooden carvings of the seven archangels broke into the million-peso club last weekend. Observers opined that “angels, in general, are always popular because they cross several religions and often enter into the world of pop culture.” Angels also have their own cult following, much like collectors who pursue statues of the Santo Niño.
On the other end of the spectrum, a set of five Ifugao bululs were also hotly pursued. There was intriguing online chatter speculating that two of the lot could possibly be of museum-quality. The granary guardians eventually went for six digits after a spirited bidding war.
There were no surprises, however, for three Sanso masterworks, heavily favored because they were covetable early works. One fetched P3.5 million; another almost P2 million; and the third, P1.4 million, in machine gun-like bidding. An enchanting Manansala still life of a chocolatier with a batirol or whisk, a mug and mangoes, all in earth colors, went for P1.2 million. (It was from bon-vivant ambassador J.V. Cruz’s private collection.)
Also featured were various collector’s editions of watches that were in high demand that all but one were snapped up. In particular, the Rolex Daytona 6265, or “Big Red,” was the star of the show at P3.5 million. Elias Toledo of the Invertedsix watch company noted that “Rolex is one of the cornerstones of every luxury watch collection. It just resonates with collectors the world over.” The “Big Red,” he added, came as a complete set, composed of the original box, punched paper, complete service records, booklets and tags. He said, “In all things auction, the documentation is a must.”
Toledo reflects that the Daytona itself is an interesting sleeper story, since they were not terribly popular when they were first released in 1963. “Now,” he grins, “they are considered ‘grail’ watches among collectors, must-haves that also have a correspondingly premium price.” The Daytona takes its name from the American car races, which featured the likes of Paul Newman among its more glamorous drivers.
Another Rolex, known as the Patrizzi — after the famous watch auctioneer — commanded P2.4 million, on the strength of it being “an anomaly and therefore rare,” very much like those Lincoln pennies made of bronze instead of wartime steel that fetch millions of dollars at auction. Certain serial numbers of this particular Rolex Daytona 16520 were varnished with an experimental organic dye that produced a copper hue different from the more common, original silver sub-dials and therefore über-desirable.
Comeback stories are beloved on the circuit, of pieces acquired for very little that mushroom into atomic prices. Think of the “Gwennol Lioness,” acquired in the low tens of thousands of dollars in 1948. It is a slight piece, measuring just a little more than three inches. It was auctioned once for $50 million, making it at the time the most expensive sculpture in the world. It is important because it dates from the time when the first wheel was discovered and the first form of writing. Works like these remind us all that all prices are puny and art is immortal.
Banner photo caption: Ifugao bululs and archangels are unexpected hits at online auction.