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A Keen-Eyed Shopper Paid $700 for a Chandelier in an Antique Store. It Turned Out to Be an Alberto Giacometti Worth Up to $3 Million


A rare chandelier by Alberto Giacometti could fetch up to $3 million at an upcoming Christie’s London sale—a big mark up from the £250 ($700) the owner paid for it back in the 1960s.

The buyer, British painter John Craxton, was pretty sure what he was getting when he spotted the work in a store window on London’s Marylebone Road. He recognized the lighting fixture as the one commissioned by his late friend Peter Watson, an art collector.

“Peter Watson came into his fortune when he was quite young, after his father died, so he had the freedom to explore what he was very passionate about, which was art and literature,” Michelle McMullan, a senior specialist in Impressionist and Modern art at Christie’s London, told Midnight Publishing Group News.

Watson, who was a cofounder and financial backer of the literary magazine Horizon, likely commissioned the chandelier for the publication’s office on London’s Bedford Square during one of his trips to mainland Europe, either in 1946 or ’47.

Alberto Giacometti, <em>Chandelier for Peter Watson</em>. Photo courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd. 2023.

Alberto Giacometti, Chandelier for Peter Watson. Photo courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd. 2023.

“Watson’s real passion at that time was Surrealism, and you can kind of see it in the sculpture, which combines what Giacometti is doing in the ’40s and the naturalistic elements of his decorative arts with the ball hanging from the bottom,” McMullan said. “That is a real Surrealist element, which is what makes it quite unique.”

The artist may have even been referencing one of his own early Surrealist works in the design, which recalls his 1931 piece Boule Suspendue.

Giacometti is less known for his more utilitarian design objects, but they were nonetheless a major part of his practice.

Alberto Giacometti, <em>Chandelier for Peter Watson</em>. Photo courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd. 2023.

Alberto Giacometti, Chandelier for Peter Watson. Photo courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd. 2023.

“Objects interest me hardly any less than sculpture, and there is a point at which the two touch,” the artist wrote in a 1948 letter to dealer Pierre Matisse.

“Alongside his more famous sculptural work, Giacometti did make decorative design pieces, the most famous of which were collaborations with the French interior designer Jean-Michel Frank,” McMullan said. “The chandeliers don’t come up at auction very often. They are usually unique editions.”

The top price one has ever fetched was £7.6 million ($10.4 million) in 2018—but that piece featured one of Giacometti’s signature stick figures, increasing its desirability.

The artist’s most-expensive work ever to sell at auction went for $141.3 million at Christie’s in May 2015, according to the Midnight Publishing Group Price Database. The record-setting piece, titled L’Homme au doigt (Pointing Man), is also the highest-priced sculpture ever to hit the block.

Alberto Giacometti, <em>Chandelier for Peter Watson</em>. Photo courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd. 2023.

Alberto Giacometti, Chandelier for Peter Watson. Photo courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd. 2023.

Chandelier for Peter Watson is not expected to match those lofty heights, but Christie’s predicts it will hammer for £1.5 million to £2.5 million ($1.9 million to $3 million) at the “20th/21st Century: London Evening Sale” on February 28.

The piece only hung in the Horizon offices for about a year, at which point the publication folded and it was put into storage. Watson died just a few years later, in 1956. The chandelier likely passed to Horizon cofounder Cyril Connolly, but exactly how it wound up in an antique shop remains a mystery.

For roughly half a century, the buyer Craxton hung the piece in the music room in his home in London’s Hampstead neighborhood. Some years after his death in 2009, his estate finally decided to get the piece authenticated.

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While Restoring a Mysterious 16th-Century Painting, Experts Found That Someone Turned Its Subject’s Frown Literally Upside Down


She once smiled, but now the subject of a centuries-old painting titled The Vegetable Seller is scowling, thanks to the work of art restorers who say that’s the way she’s supposed to be. 

This week, experts at the conservation charity English Heritage revealed the results of a two-year restoration effort, which uncovered new clues about the mysterious unsigned painting that lived in the storerooms of the Audley End House in southeast England

Conservators removed layers of overpainting, done at some point after the painting was completed, that edited the vegetable merchant’s stoic expression into a more gleeful one.

<i>The Vegetable Seller</i>. Photo: Christopher Ison/English Heritage. Courtesy of the Audley End House.

The Vegetable Seller. Photo: Christopher Ison/English Heritage. Courtesy of the Audley End House.

“More and more of her face was revealed—we realized she wasn’t meant to be smiling at all,” Alice Tate-Harte, a conservator at English Heritage, told CNN. “She actually had quite a serious expression.”

The reappearance of the subject’s original visage does more than just provide insight into the artist’s intention, though. It may point to the artist’s identity too.  

Tate-Harte explained that the subject’s expression was characteristic of the work of Dutch painter Joachim Beukelaer, who lived from 1533 to 1574. Technical analysis dated the artwork to this same era, suggesting that Beukelaer himself may have painted the piece.

The conservators also restored the painting’s original colors and removed the top register of the canvas, which was likely added in the 19th century to make the artwork fit in a square frame. “It seems quite a crazy thing to do,” Tate-Harte told the Guardian. “Why not find a frame that fitted?” 

“But,” the conservator went on, “this did happen an awful lot in country houses. Conservation wasn’t really established back in the 19th century so people had a lot more freedom to do these things.”

Now, for the first time in 60 years, The Vegetable Seller is on view again at the Audley End House. It’s been much longer than that since it was shown as the artist intended it.

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A Street Artist Is Suing the Vatican—and Turned Down a Meeting With the Pope—After She Says It Used Her Art Without Permission


Roman street artist Alessia Babrow is suing the Vatican after its coin and postage agency printed her artwork on a stamp without permission.

Babrow’s image depicts a painting by 19th-century German artist Heinrich Hofmann of Jesus with her own tag of a heart reading “just use it” written across his chest. She pasted the work, which she made in 2019, near the Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II bridge by the Vatican, but never expected it to catch the eye of church officials.

Then the Vatican issued a special stamp for Easter 2020 featuring the street art piece. It credited Hofmann, but not Babrow, who first learned of the stamp through Instagram.

“I couldn’t believe it. I honestly thought it was a joke,” Babrow told the Associated Press. “The real shock was that you don’t expect certain things from certain organizations.”

The Philatelic and Numismatic Office of the Vatican City State didn't ask permission to use Alessia Babrow's street art based on a 19th century Heinrich Hoffmann painting for a 2020 Easter stamp. Image courtesy of the Philatelic and Numismatic Office of the Vatican City State.

The Philatelic and Numismatic Office of the Vatican City State didn’t ask permission to use Alessia Babrow’s street art based on a 19th century Heinrich Hoffmann painting for a 2020 Easter stamp. Image courtesy of the Philatelic and Numismatic Office of the Vatican City State.

Mauro Olivieri, director of the Vatican Philatelic Office, reportedly spotted Babrow’s work while riding by on a moped. He told Il Mio Papa magazine that he stopped in his tracks, undeterred by honking traffic, to photograph the piece. The Vatican, which did not return a request for comment, does not currently acknowledge Babrow’s authorship of the image on its website.

The artist said that when she reached out to the Vatican, she was offered an audience with the pope and some free stamps in lieu of compensation. Babrow sent three letters asking the Vatican for recognition of her copyright before taking legal action, according to Vaccari News.

The artist has been making street art since 2013, and said she usually leaves her work unsigned. “I am considered a mix between Marina Abramovic and Banksy,” Babrow told Drago. “At least this is what some of the critics have written, and whether it is true or not, I am flattered!

Babrow is seeking €130,000 ($160,000) in damages. The case is set to be heard in court on December 7.

The Vatican turned his Alessia Babrow street art piece, seen here near the Vatican, into a 2020 Easter stamp without her consent. Photo by Alessia Babrow.

The Vatican turned this Alessia Babrow street art piece, seen here near the Vatican, into a 2020 Easter stamp. Photo by Alessia Babrow.

The Vatican is selling the stamps for €1.15 ($1.40), and has issued a print run of 80,000 stamps, according to Artribune, which first reported news of the stamp’s appearance in February 2020. The first run reportedly sold out.

Babrow’s lawsuit comes amid a growing push by street artists to protect the copyright of their work. Banksy won a 2019 case against an Italian museum selling merchandise based on his work, though experienced a setback this year when the European Union Intellectual Property Office ruled that his trademark was invalid, scuttling his lawsuit against a greeting card company.

“Suing the Vatican was not really part of my plans,” Babrow told Il Fatto Quotidiano, noting that she has been known to allow the use of her work for free, but not without permission. “Unfortunately, this story is bigger than me.”

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