Salvador Dalí’s Starfish Brooch Up for Auction

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In 2021, I curated the Beautiful Creatures exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History. One of my favorite pieces in the show was Salvador Dalí’s Starfish Étoile de Mer brooch. To start the tour, I would ask the younger audience if they were Taylor Swift fans, as the brooch was originally owned by Rebekah Harkness, who was referenced in Taylor Swift’s song “The Last Great American Dynasty.”

Now, Rebekah Harkness’s Dalí brooch and the original design for the piece are being auctioned separately at Christie’s in New York on June 7. The estimated prices are $1,000,000 to $1,500,000 for the brooch and $40,000 to $60,000 for the design.

Dalí was deeply involved in jewelry design during the mid-20th century. His Étoile de Mer brooch, created around 1950, showcased his artistic prowess in this medium. Known for his visual puns, Dalí incorporated materials creatively in his jewelry pieces. One notable example is his Ruby Lips brooch adorned with white pearls for teeth. Another is his Eye of Time brooch, featuring a diamond teardrop pendant, a ruby, and a watch dial painted by the artist.

The Étoile de Mer brooch, however, surpasses these well-known creations in terms of sophistication and surrealist construction. Its flexible arms, made of gold mesh, cannot be fully captured in a single image. Rebekah Harkness experimented with different ways of wearing the brooch, pinning it on her shoulder and allowing the arms to hang down the front and back. She even wore it on her breast for one formal occasion, creating a provocative aesthetic alongside Andy Warhol.

Dalí’s original design depicted the brooch draping over a hand, but this concept was never realized. The melted watch featured in the design did not make it into the final version either. Other surrealist elements of the brooch include gold branches with emerald leaves and two butterfly pins made of emeralds, sapphires, and colored diamonds. These butterfly pins were meant to accompany the starfish brooch as a trio, symbolizing a surreal combination.

As Dalí once stated in his 1954 catalogue Dalí: A Study of His Art-in-Jewels, his jewelry pieces were intended to please the eye, uplift the spirit, stir the imagination, and express convictions. The ‘Étoile de Mer’ brooch undoubtedly achieved these goals during its time in Rebekah Harkness’s collection. It was truly a privilege for me to witness its beauty during the Beautiful Creatures exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History.

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