Joan Didion estate sale: See which items sold for big bucks

“We all know that if we are to live ourselves, there comes a time when we must let go of the dead, let them go, hold them dead.”

Joan Didion wrote this in A Year of Magical Thinking, her 2005 memoir, in which she mourned the death of her husband, fellow writer John Gregory Dunne, in 2003.

“Let them become the picture on the table,” Didion added.

On Wednesday, nearly a year after Didion’s own death, an online estate sale of her belongings took place in New York City. Among the 224 items up for grabs, both the photograph (a 1968 portrait of Didion by Julian Wasser) and the table (an oak desk she used in her office) sold for a total of $87,000 – well above their projected value.

Along with other pieces of furniture and her book and art collection, the items came from Didion’s apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, according to Stair Galleries, the auction house behind “An American Icon: Property from the Collection of Joan Didion.” Sacramento Historical Society and Parkinson’s Research and Patient Care at Columbia University.

Didion, who is from Sacramento, died of complications from Parkinson’s disease in December 2021 at the age of 87 at her home in New York.

By the end of the sale late Wednesday, the auction had raised nearly $2 million, according to the Bidsquare website, which hosted the auction.

Didion, whose work is the “elusive” subject of a new exhibition at Los Angeles’ Hammer Museum, has had a major impact on the literary world. Perhaps in an attempt to commemorate her, fans paid massive sums on Wednesday, often exceeding estimates.

Lisa Thomas, director of fine arts at Stair Galleries, said it’s common for sales at a high-profile auction to exceed their typical market value. Despite this, some of the bids exceeded even their own expectations.

“Some of these prices are unusually high, even considering where they’re coming from,” Thomas told the Times. “$27,000 for a pair of sunglasses seems like a lot. I was pleasantly surprised.”

Thomas was referring to arguably the liveliest item at the auction, a pair of tortoise shell Celine sunglasses that were supposed to fetch several hundred dollars but sold for $27,000. In some of Didion’s more iconic pictures, she can be seen wearing sunglasses so thickly framed.

Didion wrote in a 2011 essay for Vogue that one of her childhood dreams was to stand in front of a recently divorced South American public building, “wear dark glasses and avoid paparazzi.”

Several other pairs of sunglasses sold for a more modest $4,250, while a bundle of prescription glasses sold for $10,000.

Although Didion spent her final days in New York, she has lived much of her life in California — and was deeply connected to it. The aforementioned photo, which sold for $26,000, was a framed portrait of Didion from the iconic 1968 Time magazine shoot, where she can be seen with a cigarette in hand, adjusting to her Stingray Corvette parked in the driveway of the Hollywood home she shared with her husband.

Black and white photo of a woman kissing a seated man on the head surrounded by books

Joan Didion, left, and husband John Gregory Dunne photographed in 1987.

(Patrick Downs/Los Angeles Times)

Some of the items at Wednesday’s auction were originally from California before making their way to Didion’s Manhattan apartment, including one of the biggest sales, a Sacramento-built desk in a mix of oak, maple and walnut that fetched US$60,000. dollars was sold.

The biggest sale at the auction was a 1977 oil painting by Didion, estimated at $3,000-$5,000. It sold for $110,000. Didion was photographed several times in front of the painting, the auction house said.

For the item that got the most bids – 49 – buyers rummaged over a framed 6″ x 4″ paper cutout of an invitation to an art show by American artist Bruce Nauman. Estimated value: $200 to $300. Final Sale: $32,500.

In Didion’s 1968 collection Slouching Towards Bethlehem she wrote an essay “On Keeping a Notebook”. She mused on her impulse to write things in notebooks to “record what we see around us.”

The romance of this essay did not escape the notice of buyers, who snagged bundles of Didion’s blank notebooks for $11,000 each.

Thomas also enjoyed the hefty price tags on smaller items, like paperweights and other desk items, which together sold for $8,000.

The auction, which began Wednesday morning after bids had been received, ended with her final sale late in the afternoon: six silver candlesticks for just $8,000. Joan Didion estate sale: See which items sold for big bucks

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