A framed design for 'Étoile de Mer,' signed, dated, titled and indistinctly inscribed 'G Dali 1950 Etoile de Mer...', watercolor heightened with white gouache, collage, pencil, pen and brown ink with traces of blue ball-point pen on paper

Size/Dimensions: sketch 35 x 27.3 cm(13 3/4 x 10 3/4 in); frame 38.1 x 30.5 cm (15 x 12 in)
Gross Weight: 1304.2 grams
Christie's, New York, 23 - 24 October 1995, Lot 420
Christie's, New York, 21 October 2009, Lot 1008
M. Fasel, Beautiful Creatures: Jewelry Inspired by the Animal Kingdom, New York, Charles Miers, 2020, page 90
This work has not been examined nor authenticated by Nicolas and Olivier Descharnes.



Patron of the arts, philanthropist and socialite are a few of many notable titles that describe the generous and unforgettable Rebekah Harkness.

Born in 1915, in St Louis, Missouri, Rebekah Harkness (née West) was born to a socially prominent family. Her grandfather founded the St. Louis Union Trust Company and her father, a stockbroker, made certain she grew up comfortably. After high school, Rebekah attended Fermata School for Girls in Aiken, South Carolina where she pursued a passion for music and dance. Other memorable alums of the finishing school include members of the Roosevelt and Biddle families.

Rebekah married Standard Oil heir William Hale Harkness in New York in 1947. The couple purchased a waterfront mansion on the Rhode Island coast, which they nicknamed “Holiday House” where the high society duo hosted grand parties with memorable guests.

Rebekah’s patronage of the ballet dates to 1961 when she sponsored workshops at her illustrious Rhode Island home and established the Rebekah Harkness Foundation, which sponsored many dance endeavors, including the Jerome Robbins and the Joffrey ballet companies. In 1964, she founded the internationally renowned professional ballet company, the Harkness Ballet, while in 1965, she instituted the Harkness House for Ballet Arts where the young dancers trained. Not long after, she refurbished a theater, which presented the Harkness Ballet and other dance companies to New York audiences. Though the Harkness Ballet company closed its doors, many of its principals and soloists had prominent careers as star dancers in other companies, became artistic directors, and master dance teachers.

As a longtime supporter of the arts with a desire to create unforgettable visions for her audience, Harkness commissioned prominent artists to paint the stage sets for her ballet. Salvador Dalí was amongst one of the artists she commissioned which thus began their friendship. Best known as one of the most renowned surrealist artists, Dalí also expressed his creativity through other mediums including sculpting, film and jewelry design. His inspiration for the jewelry design came from everyday objects, animals, parts of the anatomy and religious figures. His brilliance was his ability to transform these concepts into wearable works of art. In 1949, he signed a contract with jewelry manufacturer Alemany & Company to bring his designs to reality.

Apart from the outstanding ‘Etoile de Mer’ brooch, another notable creation from Dalí that Rebekah purchased was a magnificent golden chalice. The beautifully decorated vessel features climbing vines, leaves and bejeweled butterflies similar to the removable attachments on this spectacular brooch. Dalí found interest in the starfish’s symbolism of renewal and with his surrealist touch, he crafted sprouting gold branches with emerald leaves that extend from the core of the starfish. In Marion Fasel’s book, Beautiful Creatures: Jewelry Inspired by the Animal Kingdom, she states “The fantasy creature is made more surreal by a pair of gem-set butterflies that could be attached to the arms.” Rebekah proudly wore her signature starfish on multiple occasions. The eye catching ornament would be pinned to rest upon her shoulder or laid high on her chest accenting an evening gown.

This incredible brooch was previously offered at Christie’s New York in October 1995, along with the original design for the brooch (Lot 74) and most recently, was featured in the “Beautiful Creatures” exhibition at The American Museum of Natural History in 2021, on which Fasel’s book was based.

Mrs. Harkness’ legacy lives on through The Harkness Foundation which continues to award grants to fiscally-sponsored artists. Her philanthropy was not restricted to the arts. In memory of her husband who passed in 1954, she donated $2 million to construct the William Hale Harkness Medical Research Building at the, now, New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center which sponsored research for Parkinson’s disease.

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