It’s a bear market
COLLECTING: From classical to kitsch... John Vincent reports on one man’s curious twin passions, reflected in an amazing auction.
HAVE seen some impressive and idiosyncratic collections go under the hammer during nearly quarter of a century as a saleroom correspondent, but never anything quite like the one assembled by an art-loving European multimillionaire with a passion for bears... and skulls.
First, the bears. Not teddies, mind you – there was only one (a Steiff, naturally) among the hundreds of bear-related items sold at Sotheby’s in London after being tracked down over 40 years by the unnamed European businessman.
While travelling all over the world he bought every possible bear-themed item he could lay his hands on – from honey jugs to hat-stands, music boxes to mirrors, toffee tins to teapots and clocks to cocktail shakers, all made of anything from porcelain to plastic. A papier maché polar bear display stand for Fox’s Glacier Mints, an 18th century German bear muzzle, an 8ft tall feathered polar bear and an Italian “Bear Hunt” arcade shooting game all vied for attention with spectacular bronzes, North American artefacts and expensive ceramics.
He bought anything from anywhere, regardless of cost, style, age, provenance or material. One little wooden knick-knack (a simple toy woodsman and bear) fetched £38, while at the other end of the scale a stunning porcelain piece by Italian Felice Tosalli of a glamorous blonde dancing with a brown bear went for £269,000.
And now to skulls – one of the more curious and macabre collecting hobbies. They adorned opium pipe heads, scent flasks, snuff boxes, cufflinks, stick pins, poison bottles, jewellery, tankards, table lamps, vesta cases, walking sticks and bookends. There was even a novelty Chinese diamanté skull telephone (which went for £125).
The mystery rover with extraordinarily deep pockets also found time to build up a matchless collection of major works by the pioneers of post-war and contemporary art, including Gerhard Richter, Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko, Jeff Koons, Lucio Fontana, Damien Hirst and
TOO MUCH TO BEAR: A 1900 poster showing a raid on a family’s picnic (£525).