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Bidder-Sweet Auction Is Fit for Royals : Art: Thurn und Taxis family heirlooms check in for one day on whirlwind world tour before Sotheby's auction, and other previews are on display.


BEVERLY HILLS — Pearl and diamond tiara, anyone? Jeweled gold snuffbox made for Frederick II, King of Prussia? Picasso portrait of Marie-Therese Walter, the artist's voluptuous young mistress? Winslow Homer watercolor of Northumbrian fisherwomen? Chuck Close portrait of artist Cindy Sherman?

These are among the enticements offered to Los Angeles' art audience in a preview exhibition of Sotheby's major fall auctions. But you'll have to be quick to see the show at Sotheby's Beverly Hills showroom, 308 N. Rodeo Drive. The jewelry and snuffboxes, from collections of the princes of Thurn und Taxis of Regensburg, Bavaria, will be on view today only, from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Highlights from upcoming auctions of Impressionist and modern, American and contemporary art will remain on exhibition through Sunday.

Objects from the Thurn und Taxis sale, to be held Nov. 17 in Geneva, are visiting Beverly Hills briefly on a worldwide tour that already has attracted large crowds in Paris, Lugano, London and New York, and is scheduled to appear in Hong Kong, Munich and Geneva. Part of the attraction is the consignor, 32-year-old Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis, who is known as the "Punk Princess" because of her flamboyant style and friendship with rock stars. She is selling about 300 heirlooms--valued at a total of $15 million--to pay inheritance taxes after the death of her husband, Johannes, who died in 1990, at 64, and to restructure the estate for her children.

The princess belongs to one of Europe's wealthiest families, whose fortune was established in the 15th Century by Franz von Taxis, founder of the first postal service between Brussels and Vienna. The family lost vast amounts of property in Eastern Europe after World War II, but Thurn und Taxis business interests still include forestry, real estate, breweries and farming.

The items to be auctioned constitute only a tiny percentage of Princess Gloria's property, but the sale is a coup for Sotheby's. While spectacular objects frequently go on the block, big sales from a single royal family's collections are rare, according to Sotheby's officials Haydn Williams of London and Heinrich Graf von Spreti of Munich.

The 42 Thurn und Taxis objects on view are notable for their rarity, historical interest and craftsmanship, as well as their expected market value, Williams said. A gem-encrusted, floral-patterned, gold and hardstone snuffbox (valued at $1.5 million to $2.3 million), created ca. 1770 for Frederick the Great, is one of the last of its kind in private hands. A pearl and diamond tiara ($230,000 to $400,000) was commissioned in 1853 by Napoleon III for his bride, Empress Eugenie, and worn by Princess Gloria at her wedding to Johannes von Thurn und Taxis.

Like many gems used to make the Thurn und Taxis jewelry, components of the tiara have an impressive lineage. The pearls were recycled from jewelry created for Napoleon I's second empress, the Archduchess Marie-Louise of Austria.

Other pieces of jewelry--which are generally massive in scale and intricate in detail--include a diamond belt and a badge of the Order of the Golden Fleece of Austria. A portrait miniature of Johannes' grandmother, Princess Margarete, portrays her wearing some of the jewelry that is slated for auction.

Eleven paintings on view in Beverly Hills will be offered for sale Nov. 10 in Sotheby's New York auction of 66 works of Impressionist and modern art. Pablo Picasso's 1932 painting "Woman in an Armchair," a vividly colored abstract portrait of his mistress, Walter, is expected to sell for $3.5 million to $4.5 million, among the auction's highest estimated prices.

Henri Matisse's 1918-19 painting "Nude by a Window," also exhibited, is valued at $1 million to $1.5 million. (Three other Matisses in the Nov. 10 sale are in the artist's retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. One of them, an exotic Moroccan-period painting, "l'Asie," is expected to bring the auction's top price, but Sotheby's hasn't released an estimate of the artwork's value.)

Surrealist Rene Magritte, whose retrospective is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, is represented in the preview by "Le Modele Vivant," a 1953 painting of an oddly angled doorway ($600,000 to $800,000).

Two other works are from the collection of the late Wright S. Ludington, a founder and major benefactor of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. One painting, "Le Moulin Rouge ou Place Blanche (Terrasse de Cafe)" by Pierre Bonnard, depicts a music hall that was a favorite haunt of many artists, including Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The other, Edouard Vuillard's "Enfant a Table," is an intimate interior portraying the artist's niece in a dining room. The Bonnard is estimated at $500,000 to $750,000; the Vuillard at $700,000 to $900,000.

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