A private collection from the late Queen singer Freddie Mercury is being unveiled for the first time in a month-long touring exhibition in New York, Los Angeles and Hong Kong this month. It will be followed by a month-long takeover of the 16,000sq ft Sotheby’s London gallery during August, in advance of the Freddie Mercury, A World of his Own auction.
Six sales, commencing on September 6th, will see his remarkable collection as a both showman and private collector, “all culminating in the longest, most spectacular public exhibition in our company history”, according to Sotheby’s Europe chairman, Oliver Barker. Each sale will be devoted to a different aspect of Mercury’s life, both public and private.
His former home, Garden Lodge, a light-filled Georgian-style villa in Kensington, was a place to which he retreated and where, for the past 30 years, it has remained as Mercury left it.
Mercury, who died in 1991, left the property and its contents to his long-time friend Mary Austin, who said the collection “takes you deeper within the individual and the man I knew”, having described it to the BBC as “very intelligent and sophisticated”.
One of the highlights of the sale is a portrait, Type of Beauty, by French artist James Jacques Tissot, which Mercury purchased a month before he died. It is estimated it will achieve between £400,000 and £600,000 (€462,986-€694,475).
While works of art collected by Mercury will certainly be of interest, personal items such as his handwritten lyrics to Queen anthem We Are the Champions are bound to raise interest. Written across nine pages, the working lyrics include harmonies and chords and are expected to achieve between £200,000 and £300,000 (€231,498-€347,230).
Though known all over the world by his stage name, Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara on Zanzibar in 1946 and moved to London with his family in 1959.
In 1970, while studying graphic art and design at Ealing Art College, he joined budding band Smile and suggested they change their name to Queen.
Their first three albums charted respectably, but in 1975 their single Bohemian Rhapsody, taken from their album A night at the Opera, propelled them to stardom.
Queen sold more than 250 million records worldwide, which no doubt would have been a much greater figure had Mercury not died so young at the age of 45. He was voted number 58 in the BBC’s poll of the 100 Greatest Britons in 2002.
What made Mercury so well loved was his stage charisma and showmanship, in addition to his talents as a producer and singer, with his four-octave vocal range, and songwriter – he penned 10 of the 17 songs on Queen’s Greatest Hits.
His early training as an artist gave him a lifelong appreciation of aesthetics. He once said: “I like to be surrounded by splendid things. I want to lead the Victorian life, surrounded by exquisite clutter.”
Coupled with his love of flamboyance, his collection includes the fake fur and velvet crown and cloak he wore for God Save the Queen during his last tour with the band in 1986 (£60,000-£80,000/€69,456-€92,604).
Lyrics to Killer Queen (£50,000-£70,000/€57,876-€81,023) from 1974 feature alongside Mercury’s tiny Tiffany & Co moustache comb (£400-£600/€462-€694) and the lavish military jacket he wore to his legendary 39th birthday (£10,000-£15,000/€11,576-€17,365). This party was filmed for the video of his solo single Living on My Own.
Austin, who dated Mercury for six years until 1976, was his closest friend – he described her as “the only friend I’ve got”. In 1976 he told Austin of his homosexuality, but the pair were still inseparable and he continued to call her his “soul mate”.
Their extraordinary friendship was played out on screen in the 2018 film Bohemian Rhapsody, and the song Love of My Life was reportedly written by Mercury for Austin, who was by his side when he died of Aids-related bronchial pneumonia in 1991.
He left her half his reported £75 million estate, including the 28-room Garden Lodge, where she still resides. A portion of the proceeds from the six sales will go to the Mercury Phoenix Trust and the Elton John Aids Foundation.
More music and art can be found this weekend when the Hibernian Antique Fair makes its 10th-anniversary visit to the fringes of Lismore Opera Festival, taking place in the Lismore community hall today and tomorrow.
On Tuesday, Hegarty Antiques of Bandon will hold its monthly sale of fine art, furniture, silver and books of Irish interest. Highlights include a super Georgian flame mahogany demilune hall table (€400-€600); a highly decorated triple panel over mantle mirror (€150-300); and a lovely George V silver cigarette box (€300-€400). sothebys.com, hegartyantiques.com