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Royal Liechtenstein Auction Sets Dutch Auction Record at Christie’s

AMSTERDAM – In marathon sale of ten hours held on 1 April 2008, Christie’s hammered down the most valuable art object ever to appear at a Dutch auction. A pair of Bleau Globes, from the collection of the Princes of Liechtenstein, was sold to a European dealer for €793,850. Another 462 Princely lots (containing more than 1000 objects) were offered, of which 95% was sold for €5,375,773, more than doubling the expected sale total. One of the most notable buyers was the Czech ministry of Culture, which made a substantial number of important acquisitions. The other 149 buyers came from 17 European countries (92%) and the USA (8%).

Hans-Adam II, The Reigning Prince of Liechtenstein: My family and I are pleased with the results of today’s sale. Through Christie’s, these works of art collected by my family over the last four hundred years have found new homes. The proceeds will benefit the existing Liechtenstein collection, focusing mainly on European Art from the 15th century to the mid 19th century. We are currently restoring the Liechtenstein City Palace in Vienna, and we are looking forward to exhibit there also pieces which have been acquired recently or will be acquired in the near future.

The Bleau globes – The globes by Willem Janszoon Blaeu (1571-1638), the pre-sale highlight with an estimate of €200,000-300,000, more than carried their weight. The bidding started fiercely with a telephone jumping straight to €400,000, eventually losing to a European private buyer in the back of the room. For €793.850, the new owner acquired a celestial and terrestrial globe manufactured around 1640. The diameter of 68 cm. is known as the royal format, as it would take another 70 years before someone would succeed in producing a larger size.

Other highlights – While most lots doubled their estimate, some stood out. A 16th century Antwerp tapestry measuring 300 by 254 cm. (estimate €20,000-30,000) was pushed up to € 222,250, a 16th century ink well modelled as a fantastic sea-creature (estimate: €7,000-10,000) was hammered down for €37,450. An early 20th century Saint Anthony, patron of lost objects as well as single mothers, brought in the biggest surprise. The 134 cm. high terracotta figure multiplied its’ estimate (€2,000-3,000) twenty times: €42,250.

Czech Ministry of Culture – One of the most notable buyers was the Czech Ministry of Culture. The ministry made a substantial number of important acquisitions, which will return to their original locations: the castles of Feldsberg (Czech: Valtice), Sternberg (Sternberk) and Eisgrub (Letice). The Czech government regards the acquisitions as part of their cultural heritage, and will exhibit them to the public.

The Princely Collections – Due to their prominence in the Habsburg empire, the Liechtensteins brought a vibrant cultural exchange to their Princedom, in which the arts soon flourished. This unique environment is reflected in their collection, which combines a rich diversity in taste with a consistent high quality.

Already in the 16th century, Prince Karl (1569-1627) took the initiative to install a public gallery space for painting exhibitions at Feldsberg castle. Prince Karl was also the patron of renowned sculptors such as Adriaen de Vries, whose life-size Triton is considered one of the highlights of the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum.

His son, Prince Johann Adam Andreas I (1657-1712) commissioned numerous palaces during his reign, which he decorated mainly with Baroque sculpture and paintings such as Rubens’ monumental eight-picture Decius Mus-Cycle; acquired in 1693 and currently on view in the LIECHTENSTEIN MUSEUM in Vienna. In the 18th and 19th century, the Princes Johann I (1760-1836) and Johann II (1840-1929) continued to extend the collection; the former focusing on Dutch cabinet paintings, the latter on Renaissance works of art. Thanks to the inventiveness and resourcefulness of the Princes, the collection largely survived the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the turbulences of World War II. Albeit parts of the collection had to be sold after the war to finance the monarchy, The Liechtenstein Collection exhibited in 1985 at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art showed the best paintings in private hands by Rembrandt, Van Dijck and Jordaens, exquisite European furniture and tapestry complemented by Greek and Roman antiquities.

With the reopening of the LIECHTENSTEIN MUSEUM in March 2004, some of the art treasures in the Princely Collections returned home to Vienna. They had been on public exhibition there up to 1938, and were known as the “most beautiful private collection” in the world. Thus, Vienna joined Vaduz as a second showcase for the engaged princely patronage by successive generations of the House of Liechtenstein.