By Jon Rivelon Wilson
IN ONE of the most eagerly awaited events of the London summer auction season, artwork amassed by Portuguese banker and industrialist, António de Sommer Champalimaud, who died aged 86 as Portugal’s richest man last year, fetched a total of 57,271,288 euros at Christie’s recently.
The auction result makes the sale of the so called “Champalimaud Collection” the second highest total for a single-owner sale in Europe, only topped by the Rothschild sale that achieved £57.7 million (83,812,447 euros) in 1999, also at Christie’s.
Champalimaud, who owned 2.1 per cent of Santander Central Hispano SA, Spain’s largest bank, and left a fortune calculated by Forbes to be in the region of 3.1 billion US dollars, also left a collection of Canaletto paintings, two Gauardi views of Venice, works by Fragonard, Greuze and Boucher, a collection of porcelain and a collection of Louis XVI furniture, among many other prized works of art, in his palatial Lisbon home.
Born in Lisbon, Champalimaud made his fortune in cement, insurance and banking, and, during the 60s and 70s began to collect paintings and furniture from Paris art dealers, to furnish his French style Lisbon mansion. He continued to collect art until he went blind at the age of 80.
After the Carnation Revolution of 1974, the Portuguese government confiscated some of Champalimaud’s companies and he left the country for Brazil. Returning in 1992, Champalimaud managed to build up a second fortune after negotiating some 59 million US dollars (49 million euros) in compensation from the government. Known as “The Old Fox” on account of his business acumen, he was once quoted as saying “Life is a struggle and I like to fight”. One of the highlights of the auction was Canaletto’s “The Bucintoro at the Molo on Ascension Day”. Commissioned by the Earl of Lovelace in 1753, the square painting depicts the Doge’s barge moored in front of his palace against a pinkish sky, as gondolas ferry richly dressed Venetians towards the palace for the Ascension Day celebrations. It is thought Champalimaud acquired the painting when it was last auctioned in 1973 for 280,000 pounds sterling (406,600 euros). This time round, the painting fetched a massive 11,432,000 pounds sterling (16,805,040 euros), a record for the artist at auction.
Most of the proceeds of the auction will go as an endowment to the Portuguese Medical Foundation charity, to which the billionaire also left 4.7 million pounds sterling (6.8 million euros).