Marking a bittersweet moment for design aficionados, pieces from Mario Buatta’s personal collection went up for auction at Sotheby’s New York January 23-24, following a public exhibition with expertly recreated rooms of the late designer’s estate.
Curated by WRJ Design founder Rush Jenkins, former director of design for the auction house, the exhibition attracted the industry’s biggest names as well as celebrities, friends and overall admirers of Buatta’s lively spirit and passion for maximalist design.
With each lot offering a chance to forever be connected to the legacy of the “Prince of Chintz,” much of the buzz centered around who would be fortuitous enough to own pieces that graced the designer’s Upper East Side and Connecticut residences. The Yuri Pavlovich Annenkov painting Deux Maisons and Chinese export black-and-gold lacquer bureau cabinet were among the highest bids at auction, with final sale prices of $212,500 and $162,500, respectively.
Born in Staten Island, the design icon spent a lifetime gathering eclectic treasures from around the world. The 922 lots curated for the two-day auction comprised plenty of ornate furnishings, intricate gilded accoutrements, chinoiserie, china and — unsurprisingly to those familiar with Buatta’s love of dogs — an abundance of canine-centric artwork.
“Mario was a true arbiter of taste,” Jenkins says. “He collected things from other luminaries, like John Fowler and Nancy Lancaster, so now those items have a second stamp of approval and the provenance is even more impressive.”
Ahead of the auction, items of considerable interest included a pair of gilt and ebonized wood dolphin-form jardinieres ($21,250 final sale), an English porcelain part-dessert service ($22,500 final sale), and green-painted carved wooden palm fronds ($35,000 final sale). Then, of course, were the pièces de résistance, anticipated to be the bigger-ticket items. Among them were an 18th-century George III red japanned bureau cabinet ($52,500 final sale), a Chinese eight-panel painted screen ($56,250 final sale), an extensive Dodge Thayer pottery lettuce ware set ($60,000), an Italian silver and bamboo flatware set ($93.750 final sale), and a Wedgewood “Wreathed Shell” service set ($100,000 final sale).
Recalling Buatta’s affinity (and notoriety) for whimsical wares, Jenkins states: “Apparently Mario was so mad about buying porcelain that he had stacks and stacks of it in his kitchen — he didn’t even keep food in his refrigerator; rather, it was filled with porcelain vegetables!”
Sotheby’s estimates the auction total at $2.9 million, the Washington Post reports. Though, Jenkins — who has also worked on exhibitions for late American heiress and art collector Bunny Mellon and American fashion designer Bill Blass — predicts final bidding will far exceed the estimates. “Mario also had a strong respect for fine craftsmanship and a deep understanding of history,” he notes, “so this collection is a masterpiece of beautiful objects.”