Two weeks ago 1,500 pieces of fine art, furniture, porcelain, and jewelry from my parents’ estate were auctioned off to people from 53 countries in the Americas, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. With sales totaling $832.6 million, it was the highest sum ever realized from a private estate auction. All of the proceeds will go to twelve of my parents’ favorite non-profit organizations and institutions for scientific research, education, the arts, foreign affairs, and the conservation of coastal and agricultural lands.
On the day of the auction, Christie’s was buzzing with excitement as people filed in to their New York City auction house to view the items and place bids. I chose not to attend, instead staying home with my husband and two close friends, preferring to have privacy to weep or cheer as feelings arose.
The occasion felt to me like a time to symbolically honor my parents. Before the first night’s auction began I set our dining table with some of their finest linens—which I had gratefully inherited—along with china they gave us for our wedding. Then I donned a fancy dress and jewelry, evoking the bygone era when much to my father’s pleasure, my mother would dress up for dinner every night. We popped some champagne and toasted my parents for their eyes for beautiful things, for sharing them with family and friends, and for their foresight in later, for leaving them to others around the world to acquire and enjoy.
As the auction began each item felt like an old friend. I knew in which house and room it once lived, and exactly where it had been placed. I said goodbye inwardly to each that joined the worldwide diaspora of beauty and wished it well with its new owners.
I feel proud that my parents chose to designate all proceeds to benefit causes and institutions they cared deeply about and I am happy that the new owners of these treasures will keep my parents’ memory alive.
It seems fitting to share the following poem, which I wrote shortly before the auction.
What are works of art but mirrors to our selves?
A Colonial cast iron spade by John Ames
or a smooth bronze sculpture shaped by Henry Moore;
both of them serve and deserve a place outdoors
or in the sky of mind.
One begs the foot to drive it down, deep in soil.
The other draws a hand over the smooth shape of soul.
Choose what you like, what draws you close
enough to feel the imprint on your foot or cheek.
What will you unearth? What do you seek?
If you think these things belong to you,
look again, in the carrots that grow in green top rows
from space dug by spade for seeds;
or your face reflected in the brown bronze shoulder
shaped by fire and brawn.
We love what gives us joy and strength or pause..
In the loving an alchemy is born.
We are not so much possessors
as possessed by what we owned or lost.
April 8, 2018