Dozens of antiques collectors and ballet lovers gathered at Christie's last week to watch the last effects of Rudolf Nureyev being auctioned off. Some of his possessions were worth a lot in their own right: A Russian Karelian-birch library table went for $116,475, for instance, and a double manual harpsichord, made by Johannes Ruckers in 1627, sold for an impressive $59,014.
But even more meaningful to many of the bidders and observers were the smaller, more personal items that sold for far less: the worn, soiled ballet shoes, some stamped with Nureyev's name and shoe size (7EEE); a brown leather wallet, initialed and containing an Actors' Equity card; and a clutch of costumes carefully saved from ballets past, including a pale blue velvet tunic jacket trimmed with fur and lace that Nureyev had worn in 1966 when he danced the role of Prince Florimond in "Sleeping Beauty."The two-day auction, held at Christie's, was a sale for admirers of ballet, admirers of Nureyev and coveters of the luxurious possessions that the dancer gathered in a lifetime of energetic collecting that ended when he died of AIDS in January 1993 at the age of 54.
Nureyev had so many things, in fact, that he couldn't keep them all in one place, spreading them among his houses in New York, Paris, London, Italy and Virginia.
The contents of his New York apartment were sold last January for a total of $7.9 million, but this week's sale was solely concerned with the items in Nureyev's famous principal home, a sumptuous apartment in Paris.
David Llewellyn, a director of Christie's, said the sale brought in $2.79 million. Proceeds are to go to the Rudolf Nureyev Foundation, a charitable organization. After a long dispute between the foundation and Nureyev's sister and niece over his estate, the two sides agreed the sale should go forward.
Among the most important pieces were four paintings by Theodore Gericault, all of which had been given estimates of considerably more than $100,000. They remained unsold, the big disappointment of the sale.
But there was a lot of interest in the items reflecting the dancer's eclectic tastes in the arts and in beautiful things: five rich velvet gaming purses from the 18th century; a collection of obis, sashes used to tie kimonos in Japan; formal dresses, court suits and waistcoats from 18th- and 19th-century France and England; a large selection of 19th-century Kashmir scarves, and dozens of classical LPs of symphonic music, music for ballets, chamber music, and baroque and early music.
Many of the relatively minor items sold for far more than they were worth and far more than Christie's had estimated. The gaming purses, for instance, sold for an incredible $32,000, about 20 times more than expected. And a pair of books with inscriptions to Nureyev from Dame Margot Fonteyn, which had been given a low-end estimate of $1,242, sold for $12,400.