Safras to Decorate Auction Block Again


After selling $49 million worth of decorative arts from the extensive holdings of billionaire collectors and philanthropists Lily and Edmond J. Safra in 2005, Sotheby’s is back for more. More than 1,500 works on offer will go on view at the New York auction house starting Oct. 14; the sale runs Oct. 18–21 and is expected to bring in at least $40 million.

The Safra holdings are divided into six groups, covering a range of European and Russian decorative arts, mostly from the 18th and 19th centuries. Highlights include Louis XV and XVI lacquer commodes, Russian Imperial porcelain vases, an English Rococo silver centerpiece and a large collection of Meissen porcelain birds.

The sale also includes 180 Cosway bindings (leather book-bindings inset with miniature paintings on ivory) and over 100 watercolors depicting the interiors of 19th-century palaces and estates, many by the Victorian painter Mary Ellen Best.

Edmond J. Safra came from a wealthy Lebanese banking family, and continued to grow his fortune while living in Milan and later Brazil, where he met and married Lily Safra in 1976. Over the years the couple amassed a vast art collection, decorating homes in Monaco, Geneva, New York and the French Riviera.

In 1999 Edmond Safra died, when his Monaco penthouse went up in flames. His American nurse served eight years in jail for purposefully setting fire to the apartment, killing Safra and another nurse who was caring for him (Safra suffered from Parkinson’s).

Since his death, Safra’s widow has focused on the work of the Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation, which funds educational, humanitarian, medical and religious organizations all over the world. Revenue from the sale will contribute to the Foundation’s ongoing charitable activities.

Cosway Bindings, Mary Queen of Scotts. Courtesy Sotheby’s.