Seymour Stein, the Legendary Producer Who Signed Madonna, Is Selling Dozens of Pre-Raphaelite Works at Sotheby’s

He used his wealth earned from discovering Madonna and the Ramones to buy Symbolist and Pre-Raphaelite artworks.

Seymour Stein with madonna in 1996. Photo: courtesy of Sotheby's.

The legendary record producer Seymour Stein, known for unearthing musical talents such as Madonna, the Ramones, the Talking Heads, and Depeche Mode, is selling a chunk of his art collection at Sotheby’s Victorian, Pre-Raphaelite & British Impressionist Art auction next month.

Although Stein developed a reputation for spotting fresh talent throughout his career in the music industry (he coined the phrase “New Wave music”), the focus of his art collection looks to the past, encompassing high-profile Symbolist and Pre-Raphaelite artworks.

John William Waterhouse The Siren (1900) Photo: courtesy of Sotheby’s.

After amassing his collection over decades, he’s now putting 27 paintings and works on paper under the hammer. “I thought many times of opening a gallery to sell off most of what I purchased, for in truth I had bought enough to fill several homes,” he told Sotheby’s when he sold an even more sizeable portion of his collection—250 works—with the house in 2003. He added that his busy schedule forced him to sell select pieces at auction instead.

Citing his recently published book, Siren Song: My Life in Music, the Telegraph reported that the 76-year-old started collecting in his early twenties when he worked for Polydor records, which signed acts including The Who, the Bee Gees, and Jimi Hendrix. During his breaks, he started to explore Sotheby’s nearby showroom on London’s Bond Street and occasionally bought inexpensive Chinese porcelain and Art Deco furniture.

“Antiques seemed like a natural partner for records,” he wrote. “You had to learn genres, meet dealers, spot details, figure out value, and above all, find the treasures.”

Simeon Solomon, Bacchus (1867). Photo: courtesy of Sotheby’s.

In 1982, he signed Madonna, and her meteoric success made him enough money to buy John William Waterhouse’s The Siren (1900) (est. £1 million–1.5 million or $1.3 million–2 million), a highlight of Stein’s collection, and the highest-estimated lot in the upcoming sale. The work depicts a mythical mermaid whose beauty was so said to be stunning that it would mesmerize shipwrecked sailors and cause them to drown.

Other standout works include seven pieces by Simeon Soloman, led by the artist’s Bacchus (1867) (est. £60,000–80,000 or $79,000–105,000); five works by Edward Burne Jones, led by Study for The Valiant Knight (1888) (est. £30,000–50,000 or $40,000–66,000); Ford Madox Brown’s Elijah and the Widow (1864) (est. £60,000–80,000 or $79,000–105,000); and Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s The Return of Tibullus to Delia (1851) (est. £40,000–60,000 or $53,000–79,000).

The auction is just the latest sale of property from Stein’s collection. In addition to the works sold at Sotheby’s in 2003, the producer hawked about 2,400 pieces at Guernsey’s auctioneers in New Jersey in 2015 and 174 pieces at Rago’s auctioneers in New Jersey earlier this year.

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