Sotheby's Versace villa sale beats estimates


June 18, 2010 Updated Mar 19, 2009 at 10:11 AM EDT

LONDON, March 19 (Reuters) - Sotheby's may have withdrawn
one of the star lots amid suspicions it was stolen.

But that did not prevent the auctioneer raising 7.4 million
pounds ($10.4 million) from its London sale of the contents of
late Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace's Lake Como villa
late on Wednesday, roughly three times expectations.

"With heated bidding ... extending beyond 12 hours, the day
sale turned into an evening sale too," said Mario Tavella,
deputy chairman of Sotheby's Europe.

"Gianni Versace's passion for collecting ranged from
contemporary masterpieces by artists he supported and with whom
he developed friendships to the neo-classical works combined to
create his own personal Arcadia at Villa Fontanelle.

"Sotheby's ... sales of his property, of which this is the
last, are true testament to his eclectic taste, eye for beauty
and creative genius," Tavella added.

The top lots were two Italian cherry wood bookcases by Karl
Roos which fetched 481,000 and 601,000 pounds versus pre-auction
estimates of around 80,000 and 90,000 pounds respectively.

The bookcases, which adorned Versace's villa bedroom, were
originally commissioned by Princess Pauline Borghese, sister of
Napoleon Bonaparte, for the Library at Palazzo Borghese in Rome
in 1814.

Another highlight was a pair of life-sized casts of Antonio
Canova's wrestlers, which sold for 433,000 pounds or more than
10 times their high estimate.

The success of the sale, which had been expected to raise
around 2.5 million pounds, came despite the late withdrawal of a
recently discovered portrait by 18th century German artist
Johann Zoffany.

The "Portrait of Major George Maule", expected to sell for
40-60,000 pounds, was removed after a direct descendent of the
subject of the portrait contacted the Art Loss Register, which
tracks lost and stolen art and antiquities.

The descendent saw a photograph of the "vanished" work in
London's Evening Standard newspaper and the Art Loss Register is
helping the family unravel the picture's provenance and
establish its rightful ownership.

The Versace sale underlines the popularity of personal
collections associated with famous names, even as values for art
generally have fallen sharply amid global economic weakness.

Sotheby's rival Christie's recently sold the art collection
of late French designer Yves Saint Laurent for $475 million.
(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)
(To read more about our entertainment news, visit our blog
"Fan Fare" online at http://blogs.reuters.com/fanfare)

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