Items from the private collection of the late music legend Freddie Mercury will go under the hammer this summer at Sotheby’s, including paintings, his iconic stage costumes, fine and decorative art, handwritten lyrics and Japanese art.
Around 1,500 pieces from Mercury’s private collection will go to auction in a series of sales entitled Freddie Mercury: A World of His Own.
Mercury was renowned for his wonderfully grandiose performance style, peaking in a performance at Live Aid in 1985 when he and the band Queen arguably stole the show at a packed-out Wembley stadium. Similarly, items from his collection include such exuberant highlights as his replica of Saint Edward’s Crown (a replica of that to be worn by King Charles III in the forthcoming Coronation and the centrepiece of the Crown Jewels), which was also worn at Live Aid, complete with fake ermine, jewels and red velvet. Sotheby’s said that the crown could fetch up to £80,000.
The month-long exhibition at Sotheby’s this summer will see all 1,500 or so items from Garden Lodge in Kensington displayed in a sequence of specially designed immersive galleries, each one devoted to a different aspect of Mercury’s rich and varied life. The exhibition will open on 4 August, and close on what would have been his 77th birthday, 5 September. Prior to their exhibition in London, highlights from the collection will tour to New York, London, Los Angeles, and Hong Kong in June.
The six dedicated auctions which follow will be led by a live Evening Sale on 6 September, in which a representative cross-section of the most significant items in the collection will be offered.
Since Freddie’s death at the age of 45 in 1991, his collection has remained at his beloved Garden Lodge. The singer was renowned for his connoisseur’s eye and deep interest in artists and artistic movements (he studied Graphic Art and Design at Ealing Art School), all of which is reflected in his collection.
Other highlights of the sales include:
Freddie Mercury’s handwritten working lyrics to Killer Queen: written in black ink with one page of draft lyrics and four pages of music and chords on Electra Records stationery from circa 1974. Recorded on Queen’s third studio album, Sheer Heart Attack, 1974, this song was their first big hit in the US, and is widely considered the turning point for the band. Mercury said the song, about a high class call girl, came to him in just one day. Written at a time when Queen was most associated with hard rock, this tune was, in Mercury’s view, more akin to a Noel Coward number. Estimate £50,000–£70,000.
Freddie Mercury’s handwritten manuscript working lyrics to We Are The Champions: the unseen working lyrics to Queen’s greatest anthem, written by Mercury with crowds of sports fans in mind. We Are The Champions was released as a single with Queen’s other great mass-participation song, We Will Rock You, on 7 October 1977. It was an immediate chart success and quickly became a stalwart of Queen’s live performances; being part of a crowd waving and singing along in unison to the chorus has been a unifying and positive experience for hundreds of thousands of Queen fans over the decades. Written across nine pages in total, including some leaves of British Midland Airways stationery. Estimate £200,000–£300,000.
A lavish ceremonial military-style jacket created for Freddie Mercury’s legendary 39th Birthday Party Drag Ball, Munich, 5 September, 1985. An ornate jacket of black silk and velvet with large extravagantly fringed silver-metal epaulettes and imitation medals, in the style of “Sergeant Pepper”, the fashion popular when Mercury ran his Kensington Market stall. Mercury had his decadent, raucous 39th birthday party filmed for the video of his solo single Living On My Own. Banned by the BBC at the time, the video was not released in its entirety until 1993. Also worn to Fashion Aid at the Royal Albert Hall, where he appeared as a flamboyant groom at a mock wedding to Jane Seymour. Estimate £10,000–£15,000.
A classic Fabergé gem-set, nephrite and enamel desk clock, circa 1908-17, had pride of place in Mercury’s bedroom. An exquisite piece from the legendary Russian jeweller, this was bought at Sotheby’s in Switzerland, and he kept it with the marked-up auction catalogue close by. Estimate £30,000–50,000.
Prints and works on paper by luminaries of the 20th century feature large at Garden Lodge, speaking to Mercury’s early training as a graphic artist. In the kitchen hung Pablo Picasso’s portrait of his wife, Jaqueline au chapeau noir, estimated at £50,000–70,000, while in his luminescent yellow dining room, Henri Matisse’s Masque blanc sur fond noir, estimated at £3,000–£5,000, hung side by side with works by Marc Chagall and Georges Braque.
A tiny Tiffany & Co. silver moustache comb, late 20th century, which would have easily fitted inside Freddie Mercury’s wallet. Estimated at £400–£600.
Mary Austin, one of Mercury’s closest and most trusted friends, has treasured and cared for his home and everything in it for the last thirty years. She said: “For many years now, I have had the joy and privilege of living surrounded by all the wonderful things that Freddie sought out and so loved. But the years have passed, and the time has come for me to take the difficult decision to close this very special chapter in my life.”
She continued: “It was important to me to do this in a way that I felt Freddie would have loved, and there was nothing he loved more than an auction. Freddie was an incredible and intelligent collector who showed us that there is beauty and fun and conversation to be found in everything; I hope this will be an opportunity to share all the many facets of Freddie, both public and private, and for the world to understand more about, and celebrate, his unique and beautiful spirit.
A portion of the proceeds of the sale will go to both the Mercury Phoenix Trust and to the foundation of one of Freddie’s greatest friends, the Elton John Aids Foundation.