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How Banksy ripped up the rule book to raise his reputation even further

So now we know: a work of art can be worth far more once you destroy it. Well that’s true if you’re Banksy. Just a few weeks ago I mused on how much his ‘transformed picture’ Love is in the bin – previously Girl with Balloon – might make when it appeared at Sotheby’s on October 14. It had previously sold for £1m in 2018, and the moment the hammer fell, the canvas dropped through a shredder hidden in the bottom of the frame.

Shocking it may have been at the time, but it was a stunt that caught the art market’s attention, fascination and even admiration, turning the picture immediately into Banksy’s most famous / notorious artwork, and so also the most valuable of his paintings.

It remains the greatest irony that the artist who does more than any other to subvert the art market and its processes has proved himself yet again the ultimate master of the industry’s marketing machine.

In this context, while Sotheby’s estimate of £4-6 million might have looked a little punchy, it did not seem beyond the bounds of possibility. So what happened on the night? Forget the estimate; frenzied bidding took the painting to £18.5 million hammer, a record for any piece of Street art, sealing Banksy’s status at the top of the international art pantheon for living artists alongside the likes of David Hockney, Ed Ruscha, Beeple and Jeff Koons.


Auctions can be a great way of setting the record straight

Paul McCartney has no desire to write an autobiography, I understand. However, a new broadcast interview does provide further insights into the endlessly fascinating subject of The Beatles. Despite the long-held view that it was Macca who pulled the plug on the Fab Four – the result of his announcement during an interview at the beginning of the 1970s – he now reveals that all he was doing was finally letting slip what had been decided some time before. According to Sir Paul, it was John Lennon who called time on the band as he sought pastures new with Yoko Ono. The other bandmates, including McCartney, had wanted to carry on.

Setting the record straight provides some of the most newsworthy stories, and auctions are often the catalyst for this.

The latest example is the decision by Al Capone’s descendants to consign 174 personal items for auction. Ageing themselves, his grandchildren wish to divest themselves of these important artefacts, firstly so at least some of them can go to public institutions, secondly because they are concerned about wildfires near their homes and thirdly because it creates an opportunity for revising the public opinion of Chicago’s most notorious gangster.

A letter from Capone, written to his son while languishing in Alcatraz, shows his touching human side, argues his granddaughter. “These are not the words or ideas of a man who is a ruthless gangster. These are the words of a loving father,” she told The Guardian.

Maybe, but sadism and sentimentality in the same person are not mutually exclusive, as many a tyrant has shown. Capone may have been cuddly with some, but the Roaring Twenties Capo had a public reputation that was richly deserved.

How do you price a rickety old bridge at auction?

What price a rickety old wooden bridge stretched across a small stream in a wood in the south east of England?

Around £60,000 if the auction estimate is accurate.

Surely you could buy a much better new one for a fraction of that sum?

Ah yes, but not one associated with such a dearly loved character as Winnie the Pooh – and certainly not one that could claim to be home to the legendary game of Pooh Sticks.

First described in A.A. Milne’s The House At Pooh Corner, the bridge could be found in Ashdown Forest, East Sussex, near the author’s home.

Milne’s son, the model for Christopher Robin, played on it as a boy, as have generations of children since.

After countless thousands of had tramped across it, it was replaced with an iron bridge in 1999; now, 114 years after it was first constructed, the bridge has come up for auction.

So how to put a price on something so simply made and with such little intrinsic value, but whose associations catapult it into the collectables stratosphere?

Certainly, £60,000 for something so iconic does not appear unreasonable, but if a rich enough fan comes up against someone equally determined to secure it on the day, bidding could rise far beyond that figure.

The best way to price such an item is to look at other auction prices for major pieces linked to Milne and Pooh. The original Hundred Acre Wood map illustrated by E.H. Shepard sold for £430,000 in 2018, which makes the bridge’s estimate look a bit of a bargain.

Could this be the ultimate Country House sale?

From Georgian times until the past 20 years or so, Country House Sales were a relatively frequent occurrence. We all loved them because they offered the perfect mix of fabulous pieces across the board with a wonderful provenance. For those selling, a single auction or series of auction provided them with catalogues of the events that could be kept as family mementos. For buyers, it was the chance to nose around a grand home and perhaps pick up something decent that had the gloss and glamour of aristocratic connections.

These sales were relatively commonplace between the end of the Second World War and the late 1960s, when homes that had been turned over to the military were restored to those who could no longer afford to keep or renovate them.

In recent years, such sales have been rarer, although we were delighted to host one in June at Selham House.

Now, however, what promises to be the ‘Country House’ sale of the decade has been announced: in fact it is the sale of the contents of eight homes, all belonging to the fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, who died in 2019.

Although his personal style was one of restrained flamboyance, limiting himself to black and white in his own dress, Lagerfeld’s lavish tastes found magnificent expression in his homes.

From traditional sets of porcelain and antique sculpture to the most contemporary of modern art, the designer’s possessions seem to have no limit. In true country house fashion, items for sale cross a very wide expanse, from furniture and elaborate works of art to handbags, glassware and clothing.

Goodness knows how much money all this will take, but the auctioneers should make a pretty penny simply from selling copies of the catalogues, which will immediately become collectors’ pieces themselves.