A lock of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s hair contained in a 19th century gilt locket comes up at Sotheby’s in London on May 28. The strands were given by Mozart’s widow, Constanze, to the mother of the German-born conductor Karl Anschütz (1813-1870). It then passed into the collection of one of the most successful English song-composers of all time, Arthur Sommervell (1863-1937) whose direct descendent owns the item today. It is estimated at £10,000-12,000.
Locks of hair were frequently taken as keepsakes. The auction will also feature a printed invitation to Beethoven’s funeral, together with a small lock of his white hair (est. £2,000 – 3,000). Testament to this tradition, Gerhard von Breuning, the son of Beethoven’s lifelong friend, recalled that when he visited the composer to pay his last respects “strangers had already cut all the strands of his hair”.
Opportunities to get close to figures from history have always been met with fascination. In 2002, Sotheby’s sold a different lock of Mozart’s hair, passed down from the mistress of one of Mozart’s sons, for £38,240 – double its pre-sale high estimate. The British Museum holds a heart shaped pendant with a snippet of Marie Antoinette’s hair within its collection.