A Salvador Dalí Brooch Made for Philanthropist Rebekah Harkness—Who Inspired a Taylor Swift Song—Just Fetched Nearly $1 Million at Christie’s

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A Salvador Dalí brooch made for a colorful philanthropist who inspired a Taylor Swift song has sold for $982,800 at Christie’s New York. 

Designed in the shape of a starfish, the striking brooch, dating from about 1950 and approximately 7 inches long, is made from diamonds, rubies, emeralds, platinum and yellow gold. The creature also sprouts two unlikely branches featuring bright green leaves that grow from its core. The price fell just short of the $1 million low estimate.

“The fantasy creature is made more surreal by a pair of gem-set butterflies that could be attached to the arms,” observed Marion Fasel in the book Beautiful Creatures: Jewelry Inspired by the Animal Kingdom, which was based on a 2021 exhibition at the Halls of Gems and Minerals at New York’s American Museum of Natural History. Dalí crafted the butterflies from diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, yellow gold, and platinum.

The artist made the brooch for mischievous divorcée-turned-philanthropist Rebekah Harkness (1915-1982), who is the subject of the 2020 Swift song “The Last Great American Dynasty,” from her album Folklore. Referring to her subject’s patronage of dance and her notorious excess, Swift employs the artist’s name in a slant rhyme:

“Rebekah gave up on the Rhode Island set, forever / Flew in all her Bitch Pack friends from the city / Filled the pool with champagne and swam with the big names / And blew through the money on the boys and the ballet / And losin’ on card game bets with Dalí.”

Salvador Dalí ‘Étoile De Mer’ cultured pearl, ruby, diamond and emerald brooch. Photo Steven DeVilbiss, courtesy Christie’s.

Born to a prominent family in St. Louis, Missouri, Harkness married Standard Oil heir William Hale Harkness in 1947. She commissioned well-known artists including Dalí to paint stage sets for her ballet company. 

Harkness wanted her relationship with the Surrealist to transcend her demise. “When she died in 1982,” reported Vogue, “Harkness had demanded her ashes be put in a $250,000 jeweled Salvador Dalí urn. The only problem was that the urn was too small. Reportedly, the rest of her remains were placed in a Gristedes bag.” (Gristedes is a New York City grocery store chain.)

The starfish brooch previously came to auction at Christie’s New York in 1995, when it sold for $170,000.

The starfish has a distinguished exhibition history. Besides the New York exhibition, it has been on view in a show of the artist’s late work at Atlanta’s High Museum of Art in 2010-11 and at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 2007.

 

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