CANBERRA, Australia – A 128-year-old Italian violin that Russell Crowe learned to play in a few months before he starred in the 19th century war drama “Master and Commander” stole the show among movie memorabilia on offer at the Oscar-winning actor’s auction on Saturday.
The rare instrument by Leandro Bislach sold for $104,000, the highest price for movie-related offerings among 227 lots up for sale in Sydney as part of the Australia-based New Zealander’s divorce settlement.
More surprisingly, a costume that Crowe wore in the same 2003 movie wasn’t far behind, raking in $88,297.
While the violin was close to the top of Sotheby Australia’s valuation, the winning bid for character Captain Jack Aubrey’s dress uniform exceeded the auctioneer’s hopes by $61,424.
The violin’s price was only exceeded by a painting from Crowe’s extensive collection by Australian artist Brett Whiteley, “Moreton Bay Fig and Palms,” which sold for $145,882.
The auction, titled “The Art of Divorce,” took place on the actor’s 54th birthday and the anniversary of his wedding to singer Danielle Spencer in 2003.
A cheerful Crowe made an appearance after Sydney actress-singer Alisa Nasteski sang Happy Birthday and the crowd of bidders and spectators – some in formal wear, others wearing sports team-colored beanies – gave him three cheers
“G’day folks, how’re you doing?” Crowe said to the crowd. “Are you having a little bit of fun? It’s exciting, isn’t it? So it’s been a lot of fun putting it together for you.”
Immediately afterward, the violin– which Crowe described as “a lot very dear to my heart” – became the 31st item to go under the hammer.
Before the auction, Sotheby’s predicted the eclectic offerings, covering movies, guitars, art, watches, sporting memorabilia and Crowe’s jewelry gifts to Spencer, would bring between $2 million and $2.8 million.
Crowe tweeted after the five-hour auction that he had earned $2.8 million, with potential sales worth $268,730 still under negotiation.
“A bunch of stuff I didn’t really want to sell coming home … not a bad hourly rate for a 5-hour shift,” he tweeted.
Bidders’ interest had been expected to focus on the violin and paraphernalia from “Gladiator,” the 2000 blockbuster that earned Crowe his Academy Award for Best Actor. Demand for movie memorabilia often overwhelmed expectations.
Crowe’s torso armor, expected to fetch up to $23,000, sold for $95,000.
A replica Roman chariot, thought to be worth up to $7,678, was sold for $49,907.
A leather boxer’s protector, worn by Crowe when he played heavyweight champion James J. Braddock in the 2005 movie “Cinderella Man,” estimated to bring between AU$500 and AU$600, sold for AU$7,000 after intense bidding.
Sotheby’s was closer to the mark in valuing the maroon Doc Martens boots Crowe wore as the skinhead Hando in the 1992 movie “Romper Stomper.” The pair sold for $7,678, while Sotheby’s had anticipated between $7,678 and $11,517.
But some lots failed to reach reserve, including a 2008 custom motorcycle built by California’s Orange County Choppers that was turned in on a bid for $26,873. It’s painted a distinctive green and red, the colors of the South Sydney Rabbitohs, the Australian Rugby League team that Crowe part-owns.
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