A rare, nearly 300-year-old violin that has been in the collection of the late businessman Sau-Wing Lam and exhibited twice at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York will be auctioned at Tarisio next month, with an estimate in excess of US$10 million.
The instrument, circa 1731, is one of only about 150 known violins handmade by Italian master Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù, one of the three great violin-making families in Cremona, Italy. Compared to Stradivari violins of the same era, Guarneri violins have deeper and more sonorous tones and were prized by such musicians as Isaac Stern, Jascha Heifetz, and Itzhak Perlman, according to Tarisio, a New York-based auction house specializing in fine and rare stringed instruments and bows.
The one offered for sale, known as the “Baltic,” was owned by the classical musician Dorotha Powers in the 1950s, who traded in two Stradivari violins to purchase “The Baltic” from the Wurlitzer Company, according to Tarisio.
“The ‘Baltic’ is more than an exceptional instrument; it is a singular work of art,” Carlos Tomé, director and head of sales at Tarisio, said in a statement. “Given the limited quantity of violins produced by del Gesù, the upcoming sale marks the first time in over 30 years that an instrument of this type has come to public sale.”
The instrument was acquired by Lam in 1979 and has been kept in the family after he died in 1988 at the age of 65, Tarisio said. Born in Shanghai, Lam moved to New York in 1948 and eventually became the president of the Dah Chong Hong Trading Corporation, Inc., a conglomerate of import and export, grocery, and auto dealership businesses across the country. An amateur violinist and violist, Lam began to collect violin and bows in the 1960s.
Together with his wife, Jean, an amateur pianist, the Lams offered financial support, sponsorship, and even the long-term loan of instruments from their own collection to many students, among whom is the Chinese cellist Jian Wang.
Wang attended Yale School of Music with the Lam family’s support, and became the first-ever Chinese musician to sign an exclusive recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon, a German classical music record label that’s now PolyGram. He is also a judge for classical music’s most prestigious competitions, including the Tchaikovsky cello competition, the Queen Elisabeth cello competition, and the Wieniawski Violin Competition.
Throughout his near 40-year career, Wang has played a cello loaned to him by the Lam family.
“Sau-Wing Lam was one of the great unsung heroes of the music world,” Wang said in a statement through Tarisio. “Through his vital support of musicians and his careful stewardship of the musical instruments he collected, he established a remarkable legacy that is ready to be shared and passed on to the next generation.”
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The Guarneri Violin was exhibited at the Met in 1994 as part of a group of 25 exceptional Guarneri instruments, and again in 2012-13 to showcase his collection of fine Italian stringed instruments and French bows, according to Tarisio.
The violin can be viewed at Tarisio’s New York galleries from Feb. 22 to March 16, when the online auction in which it will be featured concludes.
The auction house handled the sale of the most expensive violin at auction, the “Lady Blunt” Stradivarius, once owned by the granddaughter of Lord Byron. That violin fetched US$15.9 million in 2011.