Iconic Four Seasons Sign Sells for $96,000 at Auction

Works by Knoll, Hans Wegner, and Mies van der Rohe went on the block.

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 20: A view of the venue during dinner at the Through The Kitchen Benefit For Cancer Research Institute at The Four Seasons Restaurant on May 20, 2012 in New York, United States. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

Wright auctions, which specializes in design, handled the marathon 14-hour sale of the contents of the iconic Four Seasons restaurant in New York yesterday, and by all accounts it was a smashing success. The $4.1 million sale, which included works by Mies van der Rohe and Hans Wegner, as well as custom designs by Philip Johnson and specially-ordered Knoll furniture, tableware and cookware designed by L. Garth and Ada Louise Huxtable, comprised about 650 lots. Every single lot found a buyer, according to Wright, achieving what is known in auction parlance as a “white-glove” sale.

Johnny Swing, <i>Murmuration</i> (2012)

Johnny Swing, Murmuration (2012)

Among the top-selling items from the collection was Johnny Swing’s welded nickel and stainless steel Murmuration, which sold for $90,000, albeit missing the low end of the $100,000-to-$150,000 estimate. According to the catalogue, through his association with Storm King Art Center, whose collection includes his work, Johnny Swing came to know Four Seasons co-owner Julian Niccolini and was invited to install Murmuration at the restaurant, where it has been garnering appreciation for years.

Wright president Richard Wright, who handled the sale, described it as “exhilarating” in a phone interview with artnet News.

Explaining the reasons behind the jam-packed sale, he said he would have preferred to break up the 500-lot offering over more than one day, “but the restaurant only served its last dinner last Saturday (July 24) and everything had to be cleared out by July 31.” As a result, Wright had a tight time frame to get everything, catalogue it, preview it, and put it on the auction block.

Bidding activity was unpredictable and often surprising, such as smaller Mies van der Rohe chair sets selling better than large ones (“New Yorkers don’t have room for 12 chairs,” he surmised) or ashtrays selling far better at night than they do in the morning.

Courtesy of Wright Auctions, Chicago.

Courtesy of Wright Auctions, Chicago.

The iconic Four Seasons bronze placard sign, designed by Emil Antonucci, shattered its $5,000-to-$7,000 estimate to sell for a whopping $96,000; proceeds will benefit the Canadian Centre for Architecture. The sign was installed on the entrance stairs leading to Picasso alley.

Yet another sign sold at the auction came with an intriguing back story. A gentleman named Fred Lary approached Wright about a week before the sale, informing them that he had a Four Seasons sign that he had stolen on a fraternity pledge dare in 1965 and had retained ever since. He offered to put the sign up for sale with the proceeds earmarked for charity, and asked if he could attend the sale in person, though he worried the sign would not make its $3,000 estimate. He, and Wright, were pleasantly surprised when it made $50,000 with premium (unlike the record-setting $96,000 sign, Lary’s had only The Four Seasons section and not the four trees). The proceeds will benefit the Children’s Health Fund, Wright told artnet News.

Mies van der Roher Brno chairs.

Mies van der Roher Brno chairs.

The sale featured numerous sets of blue Brno chairs by Mies van der Rohe, the most expensive of which sold for $30,000 on an estimate of $10,000 to $15,000.

Wright’s catalogue featured essays from literary luminaries such as Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, who waxes rhapsodic about his first visit to the restaurant in 1978. “I was to learn that lunch in the pool room was Siberia,” wrote Carter. “It was the most beautiful Siberia in the world.”

Wright said “the best New Yorkers were there,” adding: “This is the closest I’ll ever come to doing a fancy evening sale.”

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