An invitation to Studio 54, a French brothel bed, and pussycat portraiture
Lot 1: You’re Invited … to Get Down
The scene: Late ’70s at the hottest nightclub in New York City, Studio 54. And it was a scene, recorded by photographer Richard P. Manning, whose collection of “uncensored” gelatin silver prints goes to auction in West Palm Beach, Florida, on February 4. The original Studio 54 opened in 1977 and closed in 1980, well known in that brief period for its decadent parties and garishly attired guests. So many disco-age celebs are pictured here, young and beautiful — Andy Warhol, Cher, Debbie Harry — as are several unnamed nudies in various states of debauchery (NSFW).
A less racy, but still evocative complement to Manning’s photographs is this red paper invitation to the 1979 Valentine’s Day soirée at Studio 54, bearing the iconic 54 logo, and accompanied by a golden cupid’s arrow. It can be mine — or yours — for about $1,500–2,500.
Lot 2: Le Lit of Ill Repute
To continue on the sensual theme — perhaps in honor of St. Valentine, patron of love — Sotheby’s London is hosting an entire auction devoted to the Erotic: Passion & Desire on February 16 (again, probably NSFW). Alongside a glass “fertility talisman,” explicit Man Ray photography, and, well, a painted plywood penis table supposedly crafted for Catherine II of Russia, a divine divan beckons.
This elaborately carved mahogany bed enjoys quite the reputation. According to the auctioneer, it “has traditionally been identified with the legendary Lit de la Païva, the love nest of the richest and most notorious demi-mondaine of the Second Empire.” La Païva, aka Esther Thérèse Lachmann (1819–1884), played mistress to kings and bankers, but this bed was never used at her infamous Hôtel. Instead, it landed in “the notorious brothel at 6 Rue des Moulins, near the Palais Royal, known by the deceptive name of ‘La Fleur Blanche,’” which housed numerous opulent bedrooms and a “popular torture chamber.” There are photographs documenting this mermaid-bedecked bed at Rue des Moulins, where it remained until 1946 when the contents of the establishment were dispersed at auction.
And here it is back on the auction block, where it can be had for something between $625,000 and $1 million.
Lot 3: Cat Art
This kitty cat oil on canvas is enigmatically signed “MM” and dated 1888, but otherwise little is known about it. The auctioneer, James D. Julia of Maine, describes it as “A remarkable 19th-century portrait of a precious family member, reminiscent of the portraits painted of children.” Which is true, it does have a New England folksy quality to it, and yet, does this feline not emanate scorn? He is bored, or tired, or disgusted with humans (who can blame him?), and he’s not here to cheer us up, goddammit; he’s the antithesis of LOLCats and Emergency Kittens. Still, quite lovable, and in need of a good home, if you have $3,000+ to spare on February 10.
Rebecca Rego Barry is the author of Rare Books Uncovered: True Stories of Fantastic Finds in Unlikely Places.