Freddie Mercury’s friend sells Queen star’s ‘treasures’

At Sotheby’s in London, six auctions and a major exhibition with 1,500 objects

The crown and cape worn for the final performance of ‘God Save The Queen’ during Queen’s last tour in 1986; the handwritten lyrics of “We Are The Champions”; the autograph text of “Killer Queen”; a sumptuous military-style ceremonial jacket created for the legendary 39th birthday Drag Ball in Munich on September 5, 1985; a small silver mustache comb from Tiffany; the pink star-shaped glasses: these are some of the objects linked to the dazzling creativity of Freddie Mercury (1946-1991), so far kept in his beloved home, Garden Lodge in Kensington, in West London, which will be exhibited auction during this year.

British auction house Sotheby’s announced today that it has been commissioned by Mary Austin, a friend of Mercury, to put Queen’s frontman rock star’s personal collection up for sale: 1,500 lots will be offered in six auctions and will be exhibited in a large one month exhibition in London.

For nearly 30 years, Garden Lodge has remained almost entirely as Mercury left it, entrusted to Austin’s care: from Victorian paintings and inspiring works on paper by the greatest artists of the 20th century to the finest examples of glassmaking and such other beautiful items; from the exceptional fabrics and fine artwork she sought out while traveling in Japan, to the smaller, more personal items that were such an important part of her daily life. Topping it all off are iconic items that have helped define her public life: a series of never-before-seen drafts of the lyrics to memorable songs, along with some of the stage costumes that were the hallmark of Mercury’s style.

This summer, Garden Lodge items will be unveiled to the public for the first time in the “Freddie Mercury: A World of His Own” exhibit opening August 4 and concluding September 5, Mercury’s 77th birthday. Prior to showing in London, highlights from the collection will be on display in New York, London and Hong Kong in June.

The six dedicated auctions that will follow will be led by an in-person sale on 6 September, in which a representative section of the most significant objects in the collection will be offered. Two other face-to-face auctions will follow on 7 and 8 September: the first dedicated to Mercury “On Stage”, the second to his life “At Home” and the objects he loved and with which he lived at Garden Lodge. Three online auctions will take place in parallel, one highlighting his deep love for Japan and the other two, two-part “Crazy Little Things,” featuring an eclectic array of curious objects that were part of Mercury’s everyday life.

The auction will be accompanied by the release of a limited edition Collection Book, a commemorative volume that brings to life the story of Freddie Mercury and the objects that surrounded him. Freddie Mercury’s crown – a replica of St Edward’s crown to be worn by King Charles – will be displayed in the windows of Sotheby’s on London’s New Bond Street ahead of his coronation from today until May 5.

Among the top lots of the six auctions is a portrait of the French painter Jacques Tissot, which was the last work of art purchased by Mercury, a month before his death: it is estimated that it could sell for between 400,000 and 600,000 pounds. Another highlight of the sale will be Freddie Mercury’s handwritten working text of one of Queen’s greatest anthems, ‘We Are The Champions’, complete with harmonies and chords, written over nine pages (estimate £200,000-300,000 ) The lyrics of “Killer Queen”, written on a single sheet of paper with a black ballpoint pen in 1974, are expected to sell for £50,000-70,000.

19-year-old Mary Austin had been dating Queen guitarist Brian May when she first met Mercury in 1970. They moved in together and remained close even after he told her he was gay. She took care of him when he became weaker after contracting the AIDS-related disease. Mercury once said of Austin, “I don’t have many people to turn to. And the only one, if we want to talk about it, is Mary.” Naturally shy and self-effacing, Austin has rarely spoken in public since Mercury died.

Mary Austin, who over the past thirty years has guarded and cared for the rock star’s London home and everything in it, declared in a statement released by Sotheby’s: “For many years I have had the joy and privilege of living surrounded by all the wonderful things that Freddie sought out and loved. But the years have passed and the time has come for me to make the difficult decision to close this very special chapter of my life. It was important to me to do it in a way that I thought Freddie would enjoy , and there was nothing he loved more than an auction. Freddie was an incredible and intelligent collector who showed us that there is beauty, fun and conversation to be found in everything; I hope this is an opportunity to share all the many facets of Freddie, both public and private, and for the world to better understand and celebrate his unique and beautiful spirit.”

The exhibition to be held at Sotheby’s will see all of the approximately 1,500 objects from Garden Lodge displayed in a sequence of specially designed immersive galleries, each dedicated to a different aspect of Mercury’s rich and varied life. The auction will be accompanied by the release of a limited edition Collection Book, a commemorative volume that reports the story of Freddie Mercury and the objects that surrounded him.

Oliver Barker, President of Sotheby’s Europe, said: “Freddie Mercury’s sensational life left us with a rich array of artistic moments that still move and amaze us, a legacy that, like his music, will live on forever. Sotheby’s will become the stage for this extraordinary collection and the attention will be directed as much to the showman Freddie Mercury, celebrating everything we already know about him, as to the discovery of his lesser-known private artistic passions. will bring together the expertise of specialists from 30 different departments and will see exhibitions staged at four locations on three continents, all culminating in the longest and most spectacular public display in our company’s history.How else could we celebrate the legend of Freddie Mercury? ”

David Macdonald, Head of Single Owner Sales at Sotheby’s London, added: “The Freddie Mercury collection is the manifestation of the creativity, taste and unerring eye for beauty of an extraordinary man, presenting much more than just a selection of the best examples by artists from different centuries and countries.Like a matryoshka, Garden Lodge has revealed its layers of treasures over the last few months and the rich tapestry of objects we have discovered has taken us on a glorious adventure through its imagination Opening the door to this special place that was Freddie Mercury’s home gives us the best backstage pass into his soul.”

(by Paolo Martini)