The Sir Elton John Collection: Auction Results

The work shows a man with a bandana over his face frozen in the act of throwing not a brick or a molotov cocktail, but a bunch of flowers at an unseen target, and could be read as conveying a message of pacifism. In this version, the design is split in three parts.Image © Christie’s / Flower Thrower Triptych © Banksy 2017
Joe Syer

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

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This week, Elton John's auction opened at Christie's, featuring 900 items from his former Atlanta home. The collection embodies the essence of his iconic flamboyant personality, with pieces ranging from his signature thick-rimmed spectacles to a diverse art collection including works by Keith Haring and an original Banksy Flower Thrower. This curated collection, valued at $10 million, showcases his eclectic taste. The latest in a series of blockbuster celebrity auctions, John's remarkable opening night amassed $8 million in sales, underscoring the immense interest and value attached to owning a piece of his legacy.

This shows an eager and grinning face with three large eyes looking to the side.It is rendered in flat, saturated colours and thick outlines. Haring’s choice of colour and subject gives this print a garish and jarring quality that emphasises both the playful and grotesque in his work.Image © Christie's / Untitled © Keith Haring 1982

Opening Night

The opening night of an auction is always one of the most exciting moments of the season, often the time when the most important lots are sold. In Elton John’s case, these included works by famous artists such as: a Flower Thrower triptych by Banksy, acquired directly from the artist, which was estimated between $1-1.5 million but sold for $1.925m; two original works by Keith Haring, both of which sold for well above estimate, including one featuring his iconic three-eyed monster – which made its first-ever appearance at auction and set a new value benchmark; and a textile work by Tracey Emin, which was estimated to sell between $80,000-120,000 but sold for $138,600. A custom-made neon sign with the word Horny?! by David LaChapelle sold for over twenty-six times its low estimate, at $26,460.

Some of John’s most famous photographs were also on offer, including one by Andy Warhol depicting a male nude, which sold for $10,000 over its estimate of $50,000-60,000, several of Robert Mapplethorpe’s works including his 1983 Flowers series and Grapes from 1985, both of which also sold for above estimate. The sale also offered a unique opportunity to purchase an artist’s run of Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Still (#39), which was especially created for John’s collection, and sold within estimates. Some items from his icon collection of fashion photographs also sold on opening night, including Tied Up Torso, Ramatuelle, France 1980 by Helmut Newton, Smoke + Veil, Paris, 1958 by William Klein and Black and White Vogue Cover (B) (Jean Patchett) New York, 1950 by Irving Penn, all of which sold within estimates. Some photographs from this category, however, smashed estimates: Nastassja Kinski and the Serpent, Los Angeles, California, June 14, 1981 by Richard Avedon was estimated at $60,000-80,000, but realised $151,200; Versace, Veiled Dress, El Mirage, 1990 by Herb Ritts had the same estimate of $60,000-80,000 and sold for $119,700; and Running at Point Conception, California, 1987 by Bruce Weber sold for over triple its high estimate despite the troubles plaguing its photographer.

An image of a pair of sunglasses with white plastic frames, the lenses with yellow X's against purple, pink, and orange backgroundImage © Christie's / A pair of Elton John's prescription sunglasses

Opening night also allowed fans to own some of John’s personal memorabilia, including clothes, his car and personal items. Here, we really saw some of the greatest discrepancies between realised price and estimates, proof of how celebrity ownership affects value and how collectors increasingly cherish collectibles of all sorts. One of John’s iconic sunglasses, for example, was estimated at $2-3,000, but sold at over eleven times its low estimate, at $22,680; Similarly, a pair of his silver platform boots was estimated at $5-10,000, but sold for a staggering $94,500. One of John’s iconic matching suits sold for five times its low estimate, at $30,600, and seven vintage Versace silk shirts also smashed estimates and sold for $30,240. John also put three of his watches on display, two by Cartier and one by Rolex – all of which sold for at least three times their low estimate, with the Cartier sapphire watch selling for $176,400, or eight times its low estimate.

Many household items were also on offer: a pair of rocket-shaped silver cocktail shakers sold for ten times its low estimate, at $50,400; an entire set of Versace porcelain table service sold for almost fourteen times its low estimate, at $55,440; and a set of three painted and gilt chairs also selling for ten times its low estimate, with a price realised of $32,760. There were larger items which also captured the attention of prospective buyers, such as the Elton John Collector’s Edition Pinball Machine, which was signed and sold for $69,300 after being estimated at $10-15,000, and bidders had the chance to own a piece of music history by purchasing John’s great piano, which unsurprisingly smashed estimates and sold for $201,600. Finally, John also sold his beloved 1999 convertible Bentley, which went for $441,000 – over seventeen times its low estimate.

This image shows the artist Frida Kahlo against a bright green wall, staring defiantly at the camera as she is dressed in traditional Mexican attire.Image © V&A / Frida on White Bench © Nickolas Muray 1939

The Day Sale

The Day Sale continued to auction off John’s large collection of photographs, in a wide variety of subjects and styles. In the realm of historical photographs, for example, André Kertész's Chair and Horn, Paris, a striking composition blending the mundane with the magical thanks to its Surrealist composition, soared past its estimate of $3-5,000 to fetch an impressive $18,900. Edward Weston's Dunes, Oceano, another masterpiece, achieved a stunning $151,200, greatly surpassing its estimated $80,000 - $120,000. This sale highlights the enduring fascination with Weston's ability to transform natural landscapes into abstract forms, proving the market’s high regard for his work. Hiroshi Sugimoto's Polar Bear also exceeded expectations: estimated at $15-20,000, it reached an impressive $69,300, over four times its low estimate. In the category of fashion photography, Irving Penn's iconic Girl Behind Bottle Jean Patchett, a testament to Penn's unparalleled skill in capturing beauty and elegance, fetched an impressive $100,800 – also exceeding its $60-80,000 estimate and underscoring the timeless appeal of Penn's work. Herbert List's Young Men Under Reed Roof, a striking image that beautifully merges classical aesthetics with candid moments, also surpassed expectations, achieving $17,640 against an estimate of $6-8,000. List's ability to convey the warmth and texture of his subjects speaks to the enduring charm and depth of his photographs, attracting collectors with a keen eye for nuanced storytelling.

Robert Mapplethorpe has continued his reign as a collector’s darling, and several of his photographs on sale broke estimates. Mum from 1989, a poignant piece from the final year of his life, dramatically surpassed its estimate, fetching $44,100 against a predicted $10-15,000. Equally striking, Calla Lily achieved an astonishing $157,500, significantly exceeding its $60-80,000 estimate. This sale underscores Mapplethorpe's unparalleled ability to transform the natural world into a realm of pure aesthetic and symbolic elegance, making his works highly sought after by collectors who appreciate the blend of technical precision and profound beauty.

John’s collection also demonstrates his appreciation for the artist’s persona, as evidenced by his portraits of notable artists, some of which were also on sale. Nickolas Muray's iconic 1939 photograph Frida Kahlo on Bench, which captures the essence and spirit of Kahlo, significantly exceeded its estimates, selling for $27,720 against an anticipated $8-12,000, over twice its high estimate. Helmut Newton's Portrait of David Hockney offers a unique glimpse of Hockney, one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century. The portrait, which surpassed its $5-7,000 estimate, reflects Newton's skill in capturing the personality and essence of his subjects. Another standout was Herb Ritts' Keith Haring I, which sold for $16,380, well above its $8-12,000 estimate. This photograph of Haring, a pivotal figure in the New York art scene, encapsulates the vibrancy and energy of his personality. Some of these artists had their work present at the Day Sale, as is the case with Haring's Best Buddies: a joyful and emblematic representation of his graphic line work and social activism, which significantly exceeded expectations by selling for $52,920 against an estimate of $15,000 - $20,000. Hockney was also represented with one of his Photo Collages, Prehistoric Museum Near Palm Springs, California. It achieved $56,700, within its estimated $40-60,000 range.

Other notable works included Harland Miller's Don't Let The Bastards Cheer You Up, Julian Opie's Sara Gets Undressed, 17, which realised $81,900 – well above its $30-50,000 estimate.

These sales not only highlight the diverse appeal of fashion, memorabilia and contemporary photography but also demonstrate the significant role of celebrity provenance in enhancing the desirability and value of works. John's discerning collection, bridging historical depth with contemporary relevance, has appealed to the art market, reflecting a growing appreciation for celebrity provenance as a powerful investment.

We will continue to update these results until February 28th 2024, the final day of the Goodbye Peachtree Road sale.

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