In a Frenzy for Floral Furniture and Dog Art, Buyers Smash Expectations at Sotheby’s $7.6 Million ‘Prince of Chintz’ Sale

The late designer Mario Buatta's estate raked in $7.6 million.

An extensive Dodie Thayer Pottery Lettuce Ware Part-Service, Modern. Image courtesy of Sotheby's.
An extensive Dodie Thayer Pottery Lettuce Ware Part-Service. Image courtesy of Sotheby's.

It’s already been dubbed the “Super Mario” sale: The trove of objects belonging to the late designer Mario Buatta exceeded all expectations when it hit the block at Sotheby’s on January 23 and 24. Buyers went wild for the for giltwood, Chinese lacquer furniture, lettuce-style pottery, canine imagery, and other decorative objects that reflected the maximalist style of Buatta, also known as the “Prince of Chintz.”

The two-day sale realized $7.6 million, or two and a half times the expected high. Of 922 lots offered, 99 percent found buyers, and 86 percent of lots exceeded expectations. Sotheby’s counted 1,200 active bidders and said half of the lots sold to online buyers.

Buatta’s flamboyant style seems to have struck a chord with collectors tired of the recent dominance of neutral, Minimalist design. “Clearly there’s a lot of people fed up with monochromatic interiors, with all this emphasis on hotel-like environments, and newly excited by Mario’s maximalist style,” Dennis Harrington, head of Sotheby’s English and European furniture department in New York, told the New York TImes. “These results prove that Mario Buatta’s love of antique furniture, rich colors, and patterns and beautiful objects is still relevant to 21st-century collectors and designers—a legacy of which he would be immensely proud.”

Frances C. Fairman, The Boxer Rebelion (1902). Image courtesy of Sotheby's.

Frances C. Fairman, The Boxer Rebelion (1902). Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

“The sale is evidence of a rejection of the current design and art media viewpoint,” said Nicholas Nicholson, a decorative arts advisor in Brooklyn. “We have been told for years that all collectors, both old and young, ‘hate’ antiques.  This is clearly not the case.”

The top lot of the sale was a painting of Paris, Deux Maisons by the Russian emigre artist Yury Annenkov, which sold for $212,500, or triple the high $60,000 estimate. There was also heated competition for a 174 -piece Italian silver and bamboo flatware service from Buccellati, Milan, dated from the late 20th century, which sold for $93,750 (over an estimate of $5,000 to $7,000).

A Chinese export black and gold lacquer cabinet, circa 1730, sold for $162,500 (estimated at $50,000 to $80,000), while a pair of Anglo-Indian low tables sold for $27,500 (at a high estimate of just $800).

A Chinese export black and gold lacquer bureau cabinet, circa 1730. Image courtesy of Sotheby's.

A Chinese export black and gold lacquer bureau cabinet, circa 1730. Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

A 1902 dog painting by Frances C. Fairman, The Boxer Rebellion, sold for $50,000 (against a high estimate of $15,000), while a Dodie Thayer “pottery lettuce ware” service sold for $60,000 (estimated at $10,000 to $15,000). (That was the most visited item online from the collection, with roughly 5,000 pageviews on sothebys.com.)

“No celebration of Buatta’s life would be complete without examples of the designer’s trademark floral print,” read a post-sale release from Sotheby’s. Indeed, a pair of matching floral chintz fabric chairs, sold for $11,250 (estimated at $1,200 to $1,800).

Chairs with matching floral chintz fabric. Image courtesy of Sotheby's.

Chairs with matching floral chintz fabric. Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Reality television star Patricia Altschul, of Bravo’s Southern Charm, was a longtime client of Buatta’s, according to the Times. “Pat is so offended by my grisaille aesthetic and my beige wardrobe,” one of her friends, Luzanne Otte, who lives in Los Angeles and bid throughout the sale, told the Times. “She’s been trying to punctuate my life with color. I’m in a transition period, trying to find my grown up look.”


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