RUDOLF NUREYEV, THE FLAMBOYANT SUPERSTAR OF ballet’s modern era, knew how to command the stage. He died three years ago at 54 of complications from AIDS, but on Nov. 20 and 21, at Christie’s London auction house, he was still the most magnetic man in the room. About 500 people crowded the place in hopes of choosing from among more than 800 items, including exquisite costumes, sculptures and antique furniture that had filled his opulent Paris flat. When the gavel came down for the last time, the auction had raised $2.79 million, which will go to the Rudolf Nureyev Foundation, a charitable organization aimed at nurturing young dancers around the world.
By the mid-’70s, Nureyev, who defected from the Soviet Union in 1961, was being paid the then-remarkable fee of up to $10,000 a performance, enabling him to live as dazzlingly as he danced. In addition to his Paris apartment, he had homes in Italy, Monaco, the Caribbean, Virginia and New York City. (The contents of his Manhattan apartment were sold at a hugely successful auction last January.) His estate was said to be worth up to $40 million. But it was the things he collected—costumes, textiles, fine art, antique furniture and silver jewelry—that most revealed him. “You had a sense of this enormous person who had put this together,” says Christie’s director David
Llewellyn. “Of all the places I have ever had to do an evaluation after death, this one gave me the strongest feeling that its owner would be walking in at any moment.”