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The Boss Star Collection at Heritage Auctions

Marta / Fingerprint by Chuck Close, 1986

Marta / Fingerprint by Chuck Close, 1986

The lifetime collection of prominent Washington, DC lawyer and art connoisseur Sam Sternwill be offered immediately following the spring auction of Modern & Contemporary art on the afternoon of May 22, 2012.

“It is rare to find a collection of such variety and depth with consistency in quality and appeal,” said Nick Dawes, Vice President of Special Collections at Heritage. “You need a great eye to put a collection of this quality together, and you’ll find evidence not only of his fantastic eye across this collection, but a piece of Sam’s soul in each lot.”

“Boss Star” is the nom d’art of Sam Stern, a Washington DC lawyer who has spent much of his life and career well outside the Beltway. Sam’s legal credentials are almost as impressive as his art collection, including degrees from Penn and Harvard Law, clerking for U.S. Chief Justice Earl Warren and 30 years working closely with preeminent Washington lawyer Lloyd Cutler, White House counsel during the Carter and Clinton administrations.

While international law has been the focus of Sam’s career for more than five decades, art has proved his passion.

“Sam’s travels provided him with constant travel to Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Iran, Asia and South America,” said Dawes. “Wherever he went Sam immersed himself in local history, art and culture, and carefully acquired extraordinary objects from artists, dealers, archaeologists and collectors he befriended.”

At home, in Virginia, he developed an equally serious interest in contemporary art and photography, acquiring choice works by artists like Brassai, Bill Brandt and Frederic Evans. For several years he maintained an apartment in Beijing and became friendly with young Chinese photographers like Luo Yang, Xie Wenyue and Liu Ren. It was here he was given the name “Boss Star”, a translation of his adopted Chinese name “Xing Loban.” At the same time he was equally drawn to American and European prints of the highest order. He meticulously researched each work, assembling all the treatises, catalogue raisonnés and exhibition publications he could find for each.

Sam focused his eye on American prints and photographs of the inter-war years and was able to find outstanding examples by leading printmasters including Martin Lewis, Howard Norton Cook, Louis Lozowick, John Taylor Arms, Joseph Pennel, John French Sloan, George Wesley Bellows and Peter Milton. Nor has he neglected Europeans, like Felix Buhof, Gerald Brockhurst, Stanley William Hayter and William Walcot.

A fascinating variety of Decorative Arts ranges from a rare Amlash pottery bull vessel to Chinese archaic pottery, Qing Dynasty furniture and Maoist propaganda.

Stern himself is pragmatic on the subject of collecting.

“I’m ready to move on,” he said. “Selling what I’ve retained over 60 years is, in many respects, a pleasure. It’ll avoid belaboring my heirs with having to deal with these objects and allow me to participate in a continuing stream that nourishes and preserves part of our cultural heritage. Besides, buying this has had the added benefit of diverting me from stock market blunders.”

Highlight of the collection include:

Heritage Auctions

Heritage Auctions, headed by Steve Ivy, Jim Halperin and Greg Rohan, is the world’s third largest auction house, with annual sales more than $800 million, and 700,000+ online bidder members. For more information about Heritage Auctions, and to join and gain access to a complete record of prices realized, along with full-color, enlargeable photos of each lot, please visit HA.com.

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