The Washington residence of the late Joseph H. Hirshhorn -- a fourstory, 16-room house on Bancroft Place NW -- has been placed on the market for $ 1.475 million. According to his widow, Olga, Hirshhorn's large and important collection of 18th-century American furniture -- which filled the house -- will be auctioned at Sotheby Parke Bernet in New York on Jan. 30. And his 1957 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud has already been sold, through a classified ad, for just under $ 20,000. The proceeds of these sales will go to the residuary estate.
The Hirshhorns bought the pseudo-Georgian house in 1969 for $ 130,000 and subsequently made extensive changes. In a manner reminiscent of her husband's art-buying habits, Olga Hirshhorn has listed it with 14 different agents -- "no exclusives," she said.
Olga Hirshhorn said the house and much of its contents are being sold because "I no longer need such a big place. What do I need with two libraries? Joe once asked me which house I wanted and I took the one in Naples, Fla." She said she plans to buy "a smaller large house" in Washington and will maintain a residence here.
Hirshhorn started buying american furniture in 1933, before he began to assemble the vast collection of modern painting and sculpture which he later gave to the nation and which is now housed in the Joseph H. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. According to William Stahl, vice president in charge of American decorative arts at Sotheby's, the January auction will include 75 lots which are expected to bring between $ 800,000 and $ 1.1 million. Stahl said the most important objects in the auction are two matching 1720s Massachusetts Queen Anne pieces -- a highboy and companion lowboy of inlaid walnut -- which are expected to bring between $ 100,000 and $ 150,000 for the pair.
Another highlight of the sale will be a tall-case inlaid mahogany clock made in Massachusetts in 1970 by Simon Willard, one of the most important names in American clockmaking. The auctioneers estimate it will bring between $ 40,000 and $ 60,000, but its value was far greater to Hirshhorn. When asked by a reporter a few years ago which work of art he would save if his house were treathened by fire, he replied, "This clock," as he stroked it. The foremost New York dealer of American antique furniture, Harold Sack, once revealed that, "Every time Mr. Hirshhorn got divorced, he'd take the clock and send it to a warehouse. When he remarried, it would reappear." Hirshhorn was divorced three times.
Other important items going on the block will include a rare federal inlaid mahogany and satinwood sofa table, circa 1790; a federal-eagle inlaid mirror, circa 1800, and the canopied mahogany bed, circa 1800, in which Hirshhorn slept. All of these -- and most of the other pieces in his collection -- were by New England cabinetmakers, many in the graceful Queen Anne style he preferred.
"It wasn't widely known, but Joe loved 18th-century American furniture," said Sack, who, with his father, the late Israel Sack, sold most of this furniture to Hirshhorn. "Modern art collecting and entique furniture collecting generally don't go together. But he bridged the gap. I wouldn't call him a student of American decorative art: He'd come in all by himself because he wanted to do a room. He never bought one piece -- he'd buy 20, and somehow they fit together. I was always amazed.
"But he had a very quick, sharp, instinctive eye, and he loved fine line, good proportion and quality, and he wanted to live with it. He wasn't looking for masterpieces or status pieces, though he got a few. His goal was to furnish his house with fine American furniture and then he was finished."
When asked whether he would be buying back some of his furniture at auction, Sack replied, "We usually do, and I'm sure we will this time."
Joseph Hirshhorn died on Aug. 31. He left his entire private art collection -- approximately 6,000 works of art -- to the museum that bears his name. It is now being inventoried and appraised. Hirshhorn's English furniture and oriental rugs will also be sold in the future by Sotheby's.