When Tony Duquette,
the man who designed homes for J. Paul Getty, the Duchess of Windsor and many Hollywood stars, the man who created costumes and sets for Broadway productions (Camelot), movies (Kismet), operas and ballets (The Magic Flute and Salome), the man who provided Sharon Stone with fantastical pieces of jewelry he had made by hand, died in 1999 at the age of 85, he left four houses full of thousands of the most decadent furnishings and off-the-wall collectibles ever artistically assembled under one—rather several roofs.
His grand finale will be on March 12, 13 and 14, when Christie’s auctions off 1,680 lots of his treasure trove in an extravaganza that to the design world will be something akin to the Jackie O sale at Sotheby’s. But rather than limit the number of people attending the auction, as was the case with the Jackie sale, Christie’s has rented the famous Barker Hangar at the Santa Monica airport for the event. Admission for two is the price of a catalogue, $60.
Duquette was a voracious collector who traveled the world shipping home anything and everything that excited him and his wife, Elizabeth, nicknamed Beegle— ceramic and bronze pagodas, African art, loads of painted and lacquered tables and armoires, Asian figurines of frogs, horses and all sorts of animals, heavily carved Italian and Indian furniture, exotic antique costumes and textiles, and lots of shells. It all may sound like the regular stuff of collectors, but Duquette had a masterful eye for the eclectic and the unusual—and he adored drama.
His houses were like stage sets—in one of his cavernous salons he showcased a Nigerian Ekoi headdress with horns that scrolled around like octopus arms (estimate, $12,000 to $18,000) against a wall-mounted 18th-century Italian panoramic screen of couples promenading at Port Maurice (estimate $40,000 to $60,000).
Duquette had a knack for turning the ordinary into a conversation piece. The designer extraordinaire jazzed up a plain Italian Neoclassical-style black-and-gold-painted settee by upholstering it in lime silk. He applied a row of shells along the top of a large pine armoire, painted the trim his favorite coral color and mounted antique Fortuny fabric to the door panels. Voila. Christie’s is estimating $4,000 to $6,000.
Some pieces in the auction are original Duquette, such as four Indian-patterned brass and copper-mounted chairs in the form of peacocks, which were in the designer’s outlandish malachite room (malachite was a pattern found in many of his rooms). He made a dozen three-foot-long “ghost snail” sculptures from resin; one is up for auction with an estimate of $2,000 to $3,000. Then there is his jewelry, which had Stone, a neighbor, swooning.
Items that belonged to other designers or were made by them also feature prominently in the sale: a Louis XV polychrome tabouret from Elsie de Wolfe’s ballroom in the Villa Trianon in Versailles and a pair of Louis XV–style black-painted slipper chairs from her Beverly Hills house, matching Neoclassical-style faux malachite-painted gilt cocktail tables from James Pendleton and Agnes Moorehead and a circa 1950 Bill Haines sofa.
It will be interesting to see whether bidders at the Duquette auction will be purchasing items from the heart or at their true value. While the 440-page catalogue is full of gems at each turn of the page—the heavily documented Anglo-Indian ebony armchair with an ivory-inlaid fleur-de-lys design is sure to exceed its estimate of $30,000 to $50,000—there are numerous items that, had they not been from the Duquette estate, would be flea market fodder. But that’s what they said about the Jackie O sale …