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Van-tiques Roadshow: Compete For Cliburn's Collection At Christie's

On May 17th, the famous auction house Christie's will sell more than 150 items for pianist Van Cliburn. Now 77 years old, the Cold War-era classical music megastar and competition founder has long been a collector of fine English furniture, Russian art, silver and jewelry — and Christie's expects this New York sale to bring in more than $3 million.

Cliburn is parting with objects that range from a pair of George II-era giltwood mirrors (estimated to fetch up to $250,000) to two jewelry boxes made for Tsar Nicholas I that Cliburn bought for his mother, Rildia Bee. There's also a dazzling array of jewelry from houses like Cartier, Van Cleef and Buccellati that the pianist amassed for himself and for his mother.

For music lovers, though, the item of most interest will probably be the Steinway concert grand that was played by Cliburn's mother, the same one Cliburn himself used for much of his life. Profits from the piano's sale will benefit Juilliard and the Moscow Conservatory, where Cliburn studied.

But above all, this auction provides a chance to peek behind the curtain of a life writ large and to check out the curiosities owned by one of the few remaining classical stars of the hi-fi age — like a lavishly ornate silver tureen from 1840, once owned by the Russian Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna. Cliburn's beloved mother used it to serve her "fabulous" chicken soup.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Anastasia Tsioulcas is a reporter on NPR's Arts desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards and the myriad accusations of sexual misconduct against singer R. Kelly.