This Ancient Roman Statue Carries a Piece of Hollywood History, Too. Now It Could Sell for $200,000 at Sotheby’s London

The marble sculpture stood in a family's back garden as a silent 'protector' for nearly 50 years.

The Roman Marble Herm of a Kore 2nd Century A.D. Photo Courtesy of Sotheby's
The Roman Marble Herm of a Kore 2nd Century A.D. Photo Courtesy of Sotheby's

A second-century Roman statue that once belonged to classic film star turned interior decorator William Haines will be offered at Sotheby’s Ancient Sculpture sale in London on December 7. The draped marble figure stood in a California couple’s garden for years before they realized its value as an antiquity or its significance in Hollywood history.

Nearly 50 years ago, the consigners of the work, two doctors from South America, bought a house in Brentwood at a foreclosure auction, after the death of the previous owners in 1973. The property came with a pool, the contents of the garden, and an amazing backstory which they only discovered once the sale closed.

The home’s new owners soon discovered it had been designed by William “Billy” Haines, a film star during the Golden Age of Hollywood, whose career was cut short when he refused to hide his sexuality or his relationship with the love of his life, Jimmie Shields. As a result, Haines was forced to change professions and ended up as an interior designer to other film stars, including Joan Crawford.

Inspired by his story, the new owners chose to keep the house and garden almost exactly as Haines had left it, including the statue of a woman in the garden, which the family came to view as a protector or benevolent presence watching over their lives.

The second-century Roman marble herm of a kore. Photo: Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Time went by and the couple decided to have items in the house appraised for sale, only to discover that their “protector” was in fact an ancient Roman sculpture with an estimated value of £100,000 to £150,000 ($135,000 to $202,500) and a fascinating provenance.

The partial marble sculpture of a young woman, known in archaeological terms as a herm of a kore, was discovered in 1769 on one of Rome’s seven hills, by Scottish neoclassical painter and amateur antiquities hunter Gavin Hamilton. He then gifted the statue to the Marquess of Landsdowne and it stayed with the family for two generations before being auctioned in 1930 in London, along with other ancient marbles from the aristocratic collection.

The one mystery is how the statue arrived in Los Angeles and ended up Billy Haines’s garden, although it is assumed he acquired the piece through his work as a successful interior designer and antiques dealer. Haines was known for an eclectic style, combining English furniture with chinoiserie and objects from around the world alongside the Modernist design of the day. And he used his home as a showroom, saying: “This is where I bring my clients… it’s simply the best way to expose them to a certain quality of life as I live it.”

The house and garden once owned by Billy Haines. Photo Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Most of Haines’s possessions were auctioned at Sotheby’s Parke-Bernet in Los Angeles after his death in 1973, but the statue remained with the house. “Billy would have loved to see his things here at Sotheby’s,” a friend told the actor’s biographer during the estate sale. “I think he would have stood in a corner watching to see who came and try to overhear what his friends really thought of his pieces.”

Other items in Sotheby’s upcoming antiquities auction include an Egyptian New Kingdom relief which carries an estimate of £70,000 to £100,000 ($94,500 to $135,000), a Roman marble head of Apollo estimated at £250,000 to £350,000 ($337,500 to $472,500), a Cycladic marble figure of a Goddess from the Paul and Marianne Steiner Collection estimated at £70,000 to £100,000 ($94,500 to $135,000), and several South Arabian items from the collection of Antonin and Christiane Besse.


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