Clapton's smart art investment


A world auction record for a living artist and a high price for a 19th-century amputation kit were the big surprises last week, writes MICHAEL PARSONS

A 19TH-CENTURY Irish surgeon’s amputation set was the surprise “sleeper” in Mealy’s two-day auction of fine and decorative arts this week. The gruesome Victorian toolkit was expected to sell for between €300 and €400 but two bidders chased the lot to over 20 times the lower estimate and the hammer eventually fell at €6,200.

The brass-bound mahogany box, lined with velvet, contained two ebony-handled handsaws and five surgical steel knives along with a brass-mounted clamp. The set was made in Dublin circa 1880 by Thompson and O’Neill, one of no fewer than three makers of surgical instruments with premises in Henry Street.

Auctioneer George Mealy was “thrilled” with the result and said that Victorian amputation sets, which turn up rarely at auction, were of interest primarily to specialist collectors, mainly medical professionals.

Meanwhile, a new world auction record price for a painting by a living artist was achieved at Sotheby’s in London last weekend when Abstraktes Bild (804-9) by German artist Gerhard Richter sold to an anonymous buyer for £21.3 million (€26.4 million). The abstract oil painting, dated 1994, was owned by the rock musician, Eric Clapton, a well-known art collector.

It is believed that Clapton bought the painting 11 years ago for £2.1 million (€2.6m). Sotheby’s described the “sublime” painting as a “masterpiece of calculated chaos”. The pre-auction estimate was £9-£12 million (€11m-€14.8m).

Two telephone bidders competed for the picture during an auction and afterwards, Alex Branczik, a director of Sotheby’s, said the sale had confirmed “Gerhard Richter’s international appeal as one of the hottest contemporary artists”.

Richter was born in Dresden in 1932 and lived in communist East Germany until he defected to West Germany in 1961. By the 1980s he had become Germany’s best-known artist. Last year, to mark his 80th birthday, a retrospective exhibition of his work opened at Tate Modern in London and later travelled to Berlin and Paris.

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