One of the greatest pre-war collections of Meissen porcelain ever assembled, and once plundered by the Nazis, has shattered expectations after selling for $15 million at Sotheby’s New York.
The final result of the more than 117 rare pieces from the early 18th-century sold, which Sotheby’s said is "the most significant collection to come to auction in the last half century," is five times the pre-sale estimate. The crown jewel of the Margarethe and Franz Oppenheimer Collection, a mantel clock case from 1727, was the top lot, selling for $1,593,000 and soaring past its estimate of $200,000-$400,000. The case's gilt-bronze mount is most likely of German origin from the mid-18th century, and the movement signed “Barrey à Paris,” is dated circa 1700.
More than half the lots offered, including the mantel clock case, were acquired by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, where many of the pieces were displayed for the last 60 years, while a quarter of the lots sold to online bidders, Sotheby’s said.
The pieces were expected to realize $3.1 million, and estimated prices ranged from $300 to $400,000. Three other lots sold for more than $1 million each.
According to Sotheby’s, the collection of early works from Europe’s first porcelain manufactory was meticulously assembled by Dr. Franz and Margarethe Oppenheimer in the early decades of the 20th century. In 1927, the collection was commemorated in a catalog, which was published privately and authored by the leading ceramics scholar of the day, Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld, curator of the then Schlossmuseum, Berlin.
Following their persecution in Germany by the Nazis due to their Jewish heritage, the Oppenheimers fled to Austria in December 1936 not knowing that their refuge would come under Nazi control after the Anschluss in March 1938. Eventually they found their way to exile in New York in December 1941. As a result of their persecution, the couple was forced to part with their magnificent collection. The porcelain collection changed hands several times over the ensuing decades, and eventually became part of the holdings of the Dutch State from which it was loaned to three distinguished museums in the Netherlands: the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Kunstmuseum Den Haag in The Hague, and the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, before being restituted to the Oppenheimers’ heirs in 2021, according to Sotheby's.
Meissen porcelain, known as the oldest and most luxurious porcelain in Europe, was first produced for Augustus the Strong, King of Poland and Elector of Saxony, in the royal factory at Meissen, Germany, in 1710. The Oppenheimer collection included pieces distinguished by royal and noble provenance, including pieces from Strong's collection.
Additional auction highlights include a Meissen armorial tea and coffee service, made for the noble Morosini family of Venice circa 1731, which sold for $1.4 million against a high estimate of $180,000; a pair of Meissen Augustus Rex underglaze-blue-ground beaker vases, circa 1725, which sold for $1.2 million against a high estimate of $120,000; and a Meissen famille verte goblet, circa 1725 and possibly inspired by a Chinese Kangxi blue and white porcelain prototype, which realized $1.1 million against a high estimate of $70,000.
Sotheby's noted that nearly 98 percent of the pieces achieved prices above their high estimates.
The results mark “the highest-ever total for a European ceramics sale,” said Richard Hird, specialist in Sotheby’s English and European ceramics department. “The depth of bidding and sustained competition that we witnessed throughout the sale, as well as the numerous acquisitions by the Rijksmuseum, were not only a testament to the extraordinary quality of the pieces themselves, but also the exceptional taste and vision of Dr. Franz and Margarethe Oppenheimer.”
More results of the auction can be found here.