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Like summer, the auction calendar in July can be all too brief but still packed with wonderment. A series of Old Master sales start the month off, with eyes on Joseph Turner’s celebrated masterpiece Ehrenbreitstein. Elsewhere, we go to the moon (and back) with Sotheby’s Space Exploration sale and dive into the personal writings of one of science’s greatest minds – Albert Einstein.
1. 5 July, Sotheby's, London
Old Masters Evening Sale
Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s The Wedding Feast might be the more recognisable piece at this sale of Old Masters – having been featured on countless tins of Belgian biscuits and chocolates – but true connoisseurs will have their eye on Joseph Turner’s Ehrenbreitstein. The only one of Turner’s paintings of a German subject, a landscape based on Lord Byron’s epic poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and the great fortress Ehrenbreitstein, in private hands, it is considered one of his most celebrated masterpieces. With a price to match. Estimates suggest that the painting will sell for £17-25 million (RM94.8-139.5 million).
2. July 6-13, Christie's, Online
Einstein - Letters to a Friend Part I
Nobody writes letters anymore. Updates and correspondence now take place electronically, preserved for posterity on Facebook and Instagram. But for the great movers and shakers of world of decades past, letters are the only way to peer into their most inner thoughts, at times unveiling a perspective to shed new light on their public mystique. Michele Besso was Albert Einstein’s lifelong friend and his only acknowledged collaborator on the ground-breaking theory of Special Relativity (1905). Scientific concepts form the bulk of Einstein’s letters to Besso – including special and general relativity, the cosmological constant, the objective significance of space and time and ‘time’s arrow’ – with some personal correspondence in the mix. Unsurprisingly, the scientific letters are the most sought after in this sale, with the 3 January 1916 letter on ‘the great success of gravitation’ expected to fetch the highest price, in a range of US$30-50,000 (RM129-215,000)
3. 11 July, Sotheby's, London
English Literature, History, Children’s Books and Illustrations
An expansive collection of English literature – written, illustrated and across a number of genres – is presented in this sale. Featuring the remarkable collection of Garrett Herman, this extensive library includes first editions by Charles Darwin, Charles Lyell, J.S. Mill and Adam Smith, along with a group of Jane Austen letters and notes made by Chairman Mao towards the twilight of his life. We are particularly drawn the two drawings by E.H Shephard, depicting the eternal characters of childhood books Winnie the Pooh, which has an estimate of £40-60,000 (RM224-335,000).
4. 20 July, Sotheby's, New York
The most sought after lot at this remarkable collection of items from the Space Race era is also slightly controversial, over disputes on ownership. It has an amazing history – the Apollo 11 Contingency Lunar Sample Return bag (US$2-4 million/RM8.6-17.2 million) was used by Neil Armstrong on the Apollo 11 mission to bring back the very first samples of the moon ever collected and still contains remnants of lunar dust, 48 years later. Due to an error very early on, the bag was misidentified and nearly thrown in the trash, and its true identity remained hidden up until just two years ago when it found its way into a seized assets auction held on behalf of the US Marshall’s Service. It joins other space items in an auction timed to coincide with the 48th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing on July 20th.