It's not often that a celebrity reaches the realms of superstardom, capturing the public imagination—and adulation—for decades on end. One such celebrity is undoubtedly Freddie Mercury, the singer and songwriter who achieved worldwide fame with Queen.
This summer, the icon's never-before-seen private collection will be unveiled to the public for the first time, in a month-long exhibition at Sotheby's in London. Every inch of the company's 16,000 square-foot gallery will be dedicated to Mercury's rich and multi-faceted life, culminating in six, dedicated sales in September.
In 1980, Mercury bought Garden Lodge, a light-filled, Georgian-style brick villa in Kensington, which he filled with the art and objects that inspired him. These, along with Mercury's deeply personal belongings, will all be on show at Sotheby's: Victorian paintings, blown glass (a medium he particularly loved) and 20th-century masterpieces by some of the greatest artists of the time, as well as curios and intricate fabrics sought out on his frequent trips to Japan.
There's plenty for fans to get excited about too, with objects from his more public life—such as drafts of song lyrics, and the riotous costumes that were a hallmark of Mercury's stage performances—also set to be displayed.
For 30 years, Garden Lodge has remained almost entirely as Mercury left it, after his untimely death in 1991. Mary Austin, one of Mercury's closest friends (and one-time girlfriend, played by Lucy Boynton in the 2018 biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody) has lived in the house, and treasured and cared for the collection for the last three decades.
"For many years now, I have had the joy and privilege of living surrounded by all the wonderful things that Freddie sought out and so loved," she says. "But the years have passed, and the time has come for me to take the difficult decision to close this very special chapter in my life."
"It was important to me to do this in a way that I felt Freddie would have loved, and there was nothing he loved more than an auction," Austin continues. "Freddie was an incredible and intelligent collector who showed us that there is beauty and fun and conversation to be found in everything; I hope this will be an opportunity to share all the many facets of Freddie, both public and private, and for the world to understand more about, and celebrate, his unique and beautiful spirit."
The month-long exhibition will see all the items (around 1,500 in total) from Garden Lodge displayed in a sequence of immersive galleries, each one devoted to a different aspect of Mercury’s life. The exhibition will open on 4 August, and close on what would have been his 77th birthday, 5 September. Prior to their exhibition in London, highlights from the collection will tour to New York, London, Los Angeles, and Hong Kong in June. The six dedicated auctions that follow will be led by three live sales on 6, 7, and 8 September, with three online auctions running concurrently.
As Austin notes, Mercury himself was passionate about sourcing antiques. "I love going to auctions," he once said. "The one thing I would really miss if I actually left Britain would be Sotheby's." It's fitting, then, that the gathering and sale of Mercury's many treasures should take place in one of his favourite British institutions.
"Freddie Mercury’s sensational life has left us with a rich array of artistic moments," says Oliver Barker, chairman of Sotheby's Europe. "Lavish in scale, the auction will bring together the expertise of specialists from 30 different collecting categories...all culminating in the longest, most spectacular, public exhibition in our company history. How else could we celebrate the legend that is Freddie Mercury?"
It's a worthy tribute to a global star who once said that he "liked to be surrounded by splendid things". Now, all those who admired him can experience them too.
This article first appeared in Harper's Bazaar UK in April 2023.