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Lehman Brothers' artwork up for auction

By Melissa Gray, CNN
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Lehman Brothers artwork up for auction
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The art and signage used to be at their offices in London
  • Lehman Brothers collapsed two years ago
  • The sale will help to pay off creditors

London, England (CNN) -- Artwork that used to adorn the walls and halls of Lehman Brothers' offices in London is expected to fetch £2 million ($3.1 million) when it goes up for auction Wednesday.

Christie's auction house in London is selling the art, which includes works by Lucian Freud and Anthony Gormley, antique maps and surveys, Chinese ceramics, and even Lehman Brothers' signs.

A separate sale of Lehman Brothers' artwork from their North American offices, due to take place at Sotheby's in New York on Sunday, was estimated to bring more than $10 million, according to the auction house.

Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy in the United States two years ago after a nearly $4 billion loss, the failure of buyout negotiations with Bank of America and Barclays Capital, and the refusal of U.S. regulators to offer a government-backed bailout.

At the same time, Lehman in the United Kingdom went into liquidation, with administrators PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) appointed to sell off the assets.

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Christie's said there are many people who may like to own art with a Lehman connection.

"We look forward to presenting what is a fascinating glimpse into the history of what was a giant of the financial world," said Benjamin Clark, director of corporate collections at Christie's London.

The Christie's sale takes place Wednesday and the art will be up for public viewings starting this weekend. Barry Gilbertson, a partner at PWC, said the auction date was chosen to coincide with the second anniversary of the Lehman collapse.

Old Masters up for sale include seascapes and naval scenes. Tea caddies, cigar boxes, porcelain, and leather-bound books including the works of Charles Dickens, Samuel Johnson, and William Shakespeare are also being offered.

Modern art includes "Madonna" by Gary Hume, once described by the Guardian newspaper as "disconcertingly featureless," and estimated between £70,000 and £100,000 ($110,240 and $157,000). Two etchings by Lucian Freud are also up for sale.

Lehman Brothers' corporate signs, including a plaque commemorating then-Chancellor Gordon Brown's opening of the European headquarters in 2004, estimated at £1,000 to £1,500 ($1,566 to $2,349), are also available.

Lehman Brothers has its roots in Montgomery, Alabama, where Henry Lehman -- who had emigrated from Bavaria -- founded a convenience store in 1844. His brothers, Mayer and Emanuel, soon joined the business and later steered it toward the local cotton trade.

They opened an office in New York, which became their headquarters, and in 1870 Mayer Lehman was one of the founding members of the New York Cotton Exchange. It was the earliest commodities exchange in the city and still exists.

The company developed into primarily an investment bank by World War I.

"The brothers Lehman collected artwork which adorned their offices since the 19th century," Gilbertson said. "Over the subsequent years, of course, as the business expanded and the leadership changed, so did their corporate taste in art."

The Sotheby's sale includes more than 400 pieces, including examples of early works by leading 20th-century artists like Damien Hirst and Takashi Murakami.

Hirst's "We've Got Style (The Vessel Collection - Blue)" is from a series of cabinets he produced in 1993, featuring dishes and ceramics, and is expected to fetch $800,000. A snowy, hazy cartoon landscape by Liu Ye, "The Long Way Home," is estimated at $600,000.

Sotheby's was appointed to sell the artworks by Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and Alvarez & Marsal, which is overseeing LBHI's restructuring.

Lehman acquired much of the art in the New York sale when it took over the Neuberger Berman firm in 2003. Roy Neuberger had made contemporary art an integral part of the workplace for decades, Sotheby's said, and the collection added to Lehman's commitment to fine art.

The two firms collected so much art that they donated it over the years to museums. New York's Metropolitan Museum even has a Lehman Wing with works donated by Robert Lehman.

 
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