There were a lot of bizarre items on sale in actor, film producer, director and musician Russell Crowe’s divorce auction held at Sotheby’s Australia in Sydney last Saturday. However, the auction was a big success – it fetched a total of A$3.7 million (US$2.83 million).
People had made a fuss about his leather jockstrap used in the film Cinderella Man, with an estimated price of A$500 to A$600, but it was sold for A$8,540.
Probably the most esoteric lot of the sale was a dead horse. To be clear, it’s a prop horse from Crowe’s 2000 movie Gladiator, but it’s life-size, and “realistically rendered in rubberised material with a textured chestnut faux fur mane”, according to the lot notes. The horse was one of two from that movie that was on sale with an estimated price of A$2,000 to A$4,000. It was sold with a letter from Russell Crowe “stating his ownership”. The horse fetched A$6,710.
The auction, which comprised entirely of Crowe’s belongings, was titled “The Art of Divorce”. It pictured a smiling, tuxedo-clad Crowe brandishing a whisky tumbler on the catalogue cover and came about, he explained in an interview to a local Sydney morning show, because he decided “to turn something that was a little bit bleak into something joyful”.
A mixed bag
The 227 lots were a hodgepodge of movie memorabilia, fine art, antique weapons, motorcycles, musical instruments, watches, and a 2001 Mercedes S class with 101,661 kilometres, estimated to sell for A$15,000 to A$25,000. (A mildly excruciating lot note explained: “One of Russell Crowe’s personal cars, this vehicle also served as one of the wedding cars on the day of his marriage to Danielle Spencer on April 7, 2003.”) The car sold for A$34,160.
There was also, somewhat disconcertingly, a range of women’s jewellery, which Crowe presumably kept after the divorce. There were seven rings, for instance, ranging from a relatively modest-looking white-gold, diamond-encrusted ring with a ruby at its centre, to a colossal platinum and diamond ring that features a 5.13ct fancy yellow diamond. It had an estimated price of A$70,000 to A$100,000, and listed its provenance as “Ms Danielle Spencer, Sydney”.
Many of the lots were interesting to a general audience. There were 28 watches up for auction, including a stainless steel watch from Tiffany & Co. which was selling for a relatively modest A$800 to A$1,200 (“This was the first watch I bought in the US after making The Quick & the Dead (1995)”, noted Crowe in the lot notes), and a much gaudier gold Rolex Cosmograph Daytona, estimated to sell for A$40,000 to A$50,000. The Tiffany watch fetched A$4,636 while the Rolex timepiece fetched A$48,800.
Similarly, there’s some art, including a 1921 landscape by the well-known Australian painter Penleigh Boyd, estimated to sell between A$60,000 and A$80,000. It fetched A$67,110.
Other items were bought by devoted Crowe fans and memorabilia seekers.
Aside from the rubberised horses and leather jockstrap, a pair of lovingly used Bauer ice skates (estimate: A$400 to A$800) sold for A$671. A full outfit worn by Captain Jack Aubrey in the film Master and Commander (2003), estimated to sell for fetched A$140,300. A leather sketchbook used by Crowe’s character Ben Wade in the movie 3:10 to Yuma (2007), with an estimated price of A$350 to A$450, sold for A$3,904.
Other lots might be incomprehensible to an audience not steeped in sport of cricket. In the same TV interview, a jocular Crowe led a camera crew into a room full of cricket players’ jerseys, which he had framed, and which were also for sale. Walking past a massive, life-size bronze statue of Donald Bradman (“The Don”), an Australian cricketer known for his batsmanship (estimate: A$50,000 to A$60,000 and sold for A$63,440), Crowe came to a wall-mounted collection of memorabilia.
“This is the killer,” Crowe said. “This is Bert Oldfield’s Baggy Green.” (The camera was still on Crowe, but you heard a sharp intake of breath from the TV hosts.) “It is,” Crowe continued, “the cap that Bert Oldfield was wearing when Harold Larwood struck him on the head.”
At this point an American viewer might be confused, but the TV hosts almost lose their minds. “Stop it,” said one, audibly moved. “This is massively historical.” Another chimed in: “This is sensational.”
The cap fetched A$67,100.
For the record, the “baggy green” is a cap worn by Australian Test cricketers. Oldfield was a famous Australian batsman in the 1930s and, in a 1933 match against England, the English fast bowler Larwood hit Oldfield in the head with a ball and fractured his skull, which is what Crowe is referring to.
Given the popularity of movie memorabilia, and Crowe’s own star power, it’s no wonder the auction turned out to be a success. Crowe proved his celebrity appeal when someone bought a violin used by Crowe in the movie Master and Commander for A$164,700.
“I don’t collect for the sake of collecting, I collect because I’m passionate about a particular subject,” Crowe says in the interview. “Part of that collector’s passion is actually an excitement, that the next person who comes along and has the custodianship of a particular item is going to enjoy it and love it as much as I do.”