News Icon Barbara Walters’s $8 Million Estate Hits the Block at Bonhams, With Her ‘Audacious’ Jewelry Taking Center Stage
A John Singer Sargent portrait is expected to yield more than $1 million at the live auction on November 6.
With a career spanning five decades, Barbara Walters—who died last year at the age of 93—was a trailblazer in broadcast journalism who broke barriers for women. Now, the cherished accoutrements of her distinguished life and career—from a Harry Winston diamond ring to a John Singer Sargent portrait—are up for auction at Bonhams.
Making television history, Walters was the first female co-host of a U.S. network news program (NBC’s Today) and the first female evening news anchor (ABC Evening News). She solidified her icon status in the 1970s and ’80s with her primetime Barbara Walters Specials, featuring interviews with megawatt celebrities (Audrey Hepburn, Barbra Streisand) and heads of state (Fidel Castro, Anwar Sadat). She’s particularly acclaimed for her on-air interviews with every sitting U.S. president and First Lady from Richard and Pat Nixon to Barack and Michelle Obama.
The roughly $8 million sale of her entire estate runs through November 7, with a live auction scheduled for November 6 at Bonhams New York. The sale offers over 300 lots of American art, jewelry, fashion, and furniture, as well as personal effects from the Upper East Side home where she lived for three decades. As directed by Walters, the net proceeds will be donated to her favorite charities, which were not disclosed.
Walters’s exceptional collection of jewelry is the highlight of the sale. Walters would use it as a signifier while conducting interviews, choosing individual pieces to make a particular statement. In 1988, when she interviewed Saddam Hussein, she wore a gold necklace with the word “Peace”—a less-than-subtle comment on Iraq’s belligerence toward its neighbors.
Her jewels of choice were “big, bold, and audacious,” according to Bonhams, such as a pair of earrings featuring garnets and tourmalines and signed JAR Paris (est: $200,000–$300,000); a ruby and diamond brooch; and a Belle Époque-era diamond bow brooch (pictured at the top of the page) weighing 11.00 carats (est: $15,000–$20,000). Walters wore the bow brooch to Elton John’s 60th birthday party in 2007. Also on offer is Walters’s engagement ring from her husband Merv Adelson, a Harry Winston diamond stunner weighing 13.84 carats.
Walters also held a significant collection of American art. One of the stars of the sale is Egyptian Woman (Coin Necklace) (1891) by the celebrated portraitist John Singer Sargent. Drawing a parallel with Sargent’s masterpiece Portrait of Madame X, the painting of an unknown woman is estimated to fetch between $1.2 million and $1.8 million. Other highlights include Swan Boat, Boston Public Gardens (1950s) by John Whorf, which she hung above her bed, and The Tenth Street Studio (ca. 1884–1915) by William Merritt Chase, which was prominently displayed in her living room.
Walters was a consummate entertainer who often hosted dinner parties at her home. Some of her guests included Oscar and Annette de la Renta, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Colin and Alma Powell. Walters’s cabinets were filled with the requisite necessities for dinner parties, from Georg Jensen sterling silver flatware (est: $5,000–$8,000) to an English silver repoussé tea and coffee service (est: $5,000–$7,000). Works of furniture include custom pieces by her interior decorator Mario Buatta, as well as a secretary bookcase decorated in the style of Rococo Chinoiserie, where she would write letters to friends and family.
“My mother was a devoted journalist, loyal friend, and loving mother,” said Walters’s daughter, Jacqueline Danforth, who’s producing the sale with Bonhams. “Our home was always filled with interesting and beautiful reminders of her incredible, diverse life. I know she would find comfort that these pieces she cherished so much will be enjoyed and cared for.”
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