April 03, 2015

Dame Nellie Melba's Possessions Sold At Auction


One of Australia's most famous ladies, so the interest in her belongings is not all that surprising.

What’s in a name? An extra 240 per cent, judging by the ­prices achieved at an auction on Tuesday night of decorative art once owned by legendary soprano Nellie Melba. 
Sotheby’s Australia offered 162 lots from the diva’s collection, and some items from members of her family.

Melba died in 1931, and the auction of jewellery, furniture, artworks and household items was the first opportunity for the public to acquire items held for decades in a bank vault and at her home outside Melbourne.

Everything sold, resulting in a total of $1.99 million, including the 22 per cent buyers’ premium, from an estimate of $550,000 to $750,000.

Sotheby’s Australia chairman Geoffrey Smith says the pieces were conservatively priced by specialists who assessed their market value but not the fame factor. “How can you determine values of things when they’ve been owned by someone of that stature,” he says.

A 1915 Cartier fine rock crystal, enamel and diamond-set clock sold for $244,000, including the premium, off an estimate of more than $20,000.


Arthur Streeton’s oil on canvas The Windsor Damsel, Fishing sold for $189,100 off a low estimate of $40,000.


A Cartier diamond, gem-set and silk brocaded evening clutch sold for $39,000 off an estimate of $2000.

More than 300 people attended the sale at the Grand Hyatt Melbourne and strong phone bidding by local and international collectors was reported.

Sotheby’s says the sale success was due to Melba’s enduring fame, and to the willingness of her descendants to allow the auction house to curate the catalogue by choosing the most saleable pieces.

“A number of items are heading overseas,” Smith says.
Others were acquired by Australian institutions.

By Michaela Boland

With many thanks to The Australian
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