Scott Reyburn’s Old Master report on Bloomberg focuses on Barbara Johnson–the polish former maid who married a J&J heir–and her massive sale of paintings:
An evening session of 51 lots carries a low estimate of 5.2 million pounds. The star lot is a painting by 17th-century Spanish artist Jusepe de Ribera of a naked Prometheus manacled to a rock, valued at 800,000 pounds to 1.2 million pounds. The day auction that follows has a low estimate of 461,570 pounds.
“She was a big buyer in the 1970s and ‘80s,” Alexander Bell, Sotheby’s worldwide co-chairman of Old Master paintings said of Johnson in an interview. “Since then, she’s been selling more than buying.”
The pharmaceutical heiress sold the 18th-century Italian “Badminton Cabinet” at Christie’s, London, in December 2004 for 19 million pounds, making it the most expensive piece of furniture ever auctioned, a record that still stands today.
The Polish-born art history graduate worked as cook and chambermaid to John Seward Johnson, heir to the founder of the New Brunswick, New Jersey-based health-care company. They married in 1971 and became active art collectors and philanthropists, Sotheby’s said. J. Seward died in 1983, leaving his wife 36 million of the company’s shares, Forbes said.
Johnson is America’s 246th richest person with a net worth of $2.6 billion, Forbes said in its ranking of the world’s billionaires, published in March.