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Francis Bacon’s paint brushes (c. 1969) in a Batchelors Butter Beans can (all images courtesy Christie’s)

Have you ever wanted to own Francis Bacon’s old brushes, on which scabs of paint gnarl the worn handles, leftover residue of works of warped forms? Well, good news: there’s a Christie’s auction for you, and you can even pick up a dancing robot and taxidermy ostrich while you’re at it.

An Italian humanoid aluminium robot called”Cygan’” (c. 1957), designed by Dr. Ing Fiorito

The items are all part of the Out of the Ordinary auction, taking place in London on September 5. Currently the items are on public view in an exhibition that opened this week and continues until the sale. As the description of Out of the Ordinary goes: “Each lot has been selected as either visually striking or with an intriguing story to tell.”

Granted, this auction is hardly for those on a budget, or for most of ordinary means, as the cheapest item is a super tiny raincoat on an equally small coat hanger, which, adorable as it may be, is estimated at $1,061–1,151. Yet if you’re in the mood for some eclectic dream shopping for your curio collection, it’s fascinating.

For example, there’s a large brass rhinoceros with interior lighting that shoots out stars of celestial illumination, feathers from extinct birds, George Tinworth’s ceramic mouse portrait session, as well as a “Memento Mori with Syringe” by Dr. Viktor Schroeder, which looks like you’d expect — a skull in a glass box, some old books, and the aforementioned syringe — but the story is something else: Schroeder was reportedly haunted by the death of a girl he misdiagnosed and tried painting her portrait with the guidance of psychiatrist R. D. Laing (of counterculture fame), but failed and turned to death obsession instead. To lighten the mood, you might want to bring in Cygan the “Italian humanoid aluminum robot” from 1957 that could walk, respond to spoken and light signals, and even dance.

A rare North Italian Taxidermy Ostrich, taxidermied by Joseph Vulpinus (1785), includes glazed walnut case carved with chandelles

There are, of course, plenty of other dead things, as you might expect for such a wunderkammer of an auction, but the most fascinating is a North Italian ostrich dating to 1785 that’s cradled in a custom carved walnut case. It might take up some room, though …

A slice of fruit cake from Queen Elizabeth II’s Wedding (1947) comes in a white cardboard presentation box with silvered lettering.

And there’s the not terribly appealing but nonetheless fascinating slice of fruit cake from Queen Elizabeth II’s wedding, which, by the way, was held on November 20, 1947, so it’s a bit crumbled in its commemorative box.

As for those Francis Bacon brushes, which are said to have been used on his large studies of Lucian Freud, they were given to fellow artist Clive Barker, the artist who cast Bacon’s life mask that’s in the National Portrait Gallery in London. The brushes are still clustered in an old Batchelors Butter Beans can, a name for canned food that seems too good to be true, and you can easily imagine the unruly art supplies among the clutter of Bacon’s studio.

“Photography,” a George Tinworth Doulton Lambeth Stoneware “Mouse” Group Menu Holder (1886), showing a young mouse having his photograph taken

Christie’s Out of the Ordinary auction takes place September 5. The items are currently on display at Christie’s London, South Kensington (85 Old Brompton Road).

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Allison Meier

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print...