The $37-million cabinet

From Washington Post

It is not enough to say, as everyone will, that the Badminton Cabinet auctioned in London last week for $36.7 million is the most expensive piece of furniture ever sold.

The 18th century Florentine ebony chest, inlaid with hard and semiprecious stones, was never about function. The piece was commissioned in an era when exquisite decorative objects signified wealth and power, just as paintings and sculptures have since.

But at Christie’s, this rare work -- only three of its caliber are known -- entered a realm that seemed reserved for fine, mostly impressionist, art. The Badminton Cabinet became the 17th most expensive item conveyed at auction. It ranks behind nine Picassos and four Van Goghs, but just ahead of Pontormo’s “Portrait of Duke Cosimo I de’Medici” (it was in Medici’s workshop that the chest was made). Every other entry in the art market’s Top 20 is a painting.


“The cabinet transcends the boundaries of furniture,” said Charles Cator, co-chairman of Christie’s International UK.

The seller, Barbara Piasecka Johnson, made auction history in 1990, paying $15.1 million -- a record for furniture that stood until this sale. The new record-holder is Prince Hans-Adam II, head of state of Liechtenstein.