Elton John: Artist, Icon, Collector

This photograph shows singer Elton John wearing his signature colourful glasses, sitting at a piano and singing into a microphone.Image © Creative Commons via Flickr / Elton John performing in 2017
Joe Syer

Joe Syer, Co-Founder & Specialist[email protected]

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This week, Elton John is set to auction off an impressive collection of 900 items, valued at $10 million, from his former Atlanta home. This unique sale, hosted by Christie's in New York's Rockefeller Center, features live and online auctions. Among the eclectic mix of items on offer are several pairs of his iconic thick-rimmed spectacles and an extensive art collection, including a custom Damien Hirst, works by Keith Haring and an original Flower Thrower by Banksy. John’s collection is entirely reflective of his flamboyant personality and iconic status in the global cultural stage for the past sixty years.

This photograph shows artist Elton John on stage, wearing a white sparkly embroidered suit and his signature colourful sunglasses.Image © Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons / Elton John performing in 2017

Elton John: An Icon's Life and Career

Born Reginald Kenneth Dwight on March 25, 1947, in Middlesex, England, he showed an early talent for music, winning a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music aged only 11. By the late 1960s, he had adopted the stage name Elton John, marking the beginning of an iconic career. His breakthrough came in 1970 with his self-titled second album, which included the hit Your Song, followed by a series of successful albums and singles that have cemented his status as a music superstar. His flamboyant stage presence, characterised by extravagant outfits and eyewear, has made him an iconic figure in the music world and popular culture at large. Throughout his career, he has received countless accolades, including multiple Grammy Awards, a Tony Award and a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II for his contributions to music and charity. He is also celebrated for his work as a composer for musicals like The Lion King, for which he won an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Furthermore, John is known for his dedication to various charitable causes, particularly his efforts in AIDS research and LGBTQ+ rights, and in 1992 established the Elton John AIDS Foundation. The Foundation has raised hundreds of millions for HIV/AIDS research and prevention, making him a widely respected figure in activism. John has been open about his personal life, including his struggles with addiction and his journey to sobriety, adding to his legacy as a resilient and transformative figure. His status as a cultural icon is also reflected in his influence on fashion, his extensive art collection, and his role as a mentor and inspiration to younger artists. He is the most successful solo artist in the history of the US Billboard charts and his tribute single to Princess Diana, Candle in the Wind (1997), is the best-selling chart single of all time – having sold over 33 million copies worldwide.

Elton John as A Collector

John is renowned for his distinctive and impassioned approach to collecting. His style is notable for its flamboyance and roots in queer culture, and extends into his diverse and impressive collection of art, fashion and memorabilia. This eclectic taste showcases his personal style but also his deep engagement with and support for the arts and LGBTQ+ communities. His performance outfits and other fashion items form a significant part of his collection, with an aesthetic that blurs the lines between fashion and art. These pieces represent a pivotal moment in fashion history, characterised by its unabashed celebration of glamour, camp and extravagance. He is also a fan of the decorative arts, and particularly of objects made of glass.

In the realm of visual arts, John's collection is equally noteworthy, featuring works by some of the leading contemporary artists of our time. Artists like Nan Goldin, known for her raw and intimate photographic portraits and Tracey Emin, celebrated for her provocative and autobiographical works. He also has works by 20th century icons such as Haring, Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat. These artists, much like John himself, have pushed boundaries and challenged conventional norms within their respective fields. His collection also extends to significant works that explore themes of love, sexuality and identity, further underscoring his commitment to queer representation and advocacy. Through his art acquisitions, John has not only supported the careers of LGBTQ+ artists and allies but has also used his platform to highlight the importance of queer art in the broader cultural discourse.

Photography Fanatic and Fragile Beauty

John is a photography enthusiast, and photography forms a large part of his art collection. Over the years, it evolved into the Sir Elton John and David Furnish Photography Collection, considered one of the leading private collections of the medium in the world. It is so important that the V&A will open an exhibition based on it this spring, touting it as “an unparalleled selection of the world's leading photographers, telling the story of modern and contemporary photography.” These include works by Man Ray, Alfred Stieglitz, Robert Mapplethorpe, Cindy Sherman and Dorothea Lange.

John's role as a collector is thus an extension of his identity as an artist and activist. His collections serve as a vibrant representation of his life, interests and the causes he champions. They reflect a man who has spent a lifetime curating not just art and fashion but also a legacy of openness, creativity and support for the LGBTQ+ community and art historical canon.

“I collect for the beauty, not the value. I’m in awe of these things.”
Elton John
A heart-shaped canvas is scattered with butterflies surrounding a portrait of Elton John and his partner David Furness. Damien Hirst has signed it in pink.Image © Christie's / Your Song © Damien Hirst 2008

The Collection of Sir Elton John: Goodbye Peachtree Road

John is no stranger to auctioning his belongings, often doing so for charitable purposes and to benefit the Elton John AIDS Foundation, although this is his first major auction in 21 years. The upcoming auction, titled "The Collection of Sir Elton John: Goodbye Peachtree Road," promises to be a monumental event for Christie's, showcasing an array of items that perfectly encapsulate the essence of Elton John's life and career. The 900 lots have been divided into eight sections: Opening Night, Day Sale, Elton’s Versace, Honky Château, The Jewel Box, Out of the Closet, Elton’s Superstars and Love, Lust and Devotion.

Among the highlights of the auction is an original Flower Thrower triptych by the renowned street artist Banksy. This piece, notable for its striking visual narrative and social commentary, is estimated to fetch between $1 million and $1.5 million – making it the most expensive item in the collection. Another striking aspect of the objects on offer is John’s extensive array of vintage Versace clothing, largely thanks to his personal friendship with Gianni Versace, the legendary fashion designer known for his daring and vibrant designs. This well documented relationship adds a layer of personal history and emotional value to these pieces, a testament to John's iconic style and significant influence on the intersections of music, fashion, and art. The auction encompasses not only John's stage costumes and an impressive selection of Rolex and Cartier watches but also original artworks by Haring and bespoke pieces by Hirst, along with stellar examples of photography such as portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Jim Morisson. The bespoke Hirst, titled Your Song, was one of the most anticipated lots on sale but pulled from the website on the morning of Opening Night.

This diverse range of lots highlights the auction as a quintessential example of a celebrity collection that bridges the gap between art and other luxury collectibles. The inclusion of such varied items underlines the broad appeal of the auction, attracting not only art collectors but also fans of music, fashion and luxury, making it a landmark event that celebrates the multifaceted career and personal interests of Sir Elton John. Through this auction, bidders have the unique opportunity to own a piece of the legacy of one of the most influential and beloved figures in the world of entertainment, art, and philanthropy.

“If you buy anything at the sale, just remember that it is going from one incredibly eager collector who had so much pleasure out of what you are going to buy, and I hope it finds a good home.”
Elton John on the Christie's auction
A traditional pinball machine, decorated with portraits of John and bright musical motifs.Image © Christie's / Elton John Collector's edition signed pinball machine.

The Collector's Influence: How Celebrity Provenance Affects Auctions

Over the past few years, auction houses have had several blockbuster auctions centred on the collections of notable personalities. When the ownership history of an artwork is linked to famous or historical figures, it transforms an artwork into a coveted historical artefact, increasing its desirability among collectors. High-profile auctions, such as those involving items from celebrities like Freddie Mercury and David Bowie, illustrate the profound impact of provenance on the financial and historical value of art pieces. These auctions have demonstrated that the association with a famous personality can dramatically elevate an item's worth, as seen in Mercury's moustache comb fetching 381 times its low estimate. This extends to collections owned by esteemed art collectors as well, with auctions of their collections breaking records and amassing significant sums. For instance, the auction of Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen's collection at Christie’s became the biggest sale in recorded history, accumulating $1.2 billion. Similarly, the Macklowe collection and Emily Fisher Landau's collection have brought in substantial amounts for Sotheby’s, emphasising the market's valuation of impeccable provenance.

The precedents set by the blockbuster auctions of items owned by celebrities strongly suggest that John's upcoming auction will achieve significant success, partly due to his global celebrity status and the deep personal connection fans and collectors have with his music and public persona. The previous remarkable sales results underscore the premium the market places on items with a direct link to iconic figures such as John, with his legendary career, flamboyant style and impactful contributions to music and philanthropy. He embodies a unique blend of artistic genius and personal flair that is likely to captivate bidders. His collection is not just a reflection of his tastes but a tangible part of his legacy. Given these factors, it is reasonable to predict that the auction of John's belongings is set command high prices, reinforcing the significant influence of celebrity provenance in elevating the desirability and value of collectible items in the competitive art market.

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