By  on March 18, 1994

You say you want a party? I'll give you a party. How about this one?

London is rejoicing in an early spring. The first signs were about a million daffodils pushing up their sunny heads in The Mall. They were all planted, you see, to come out just in time to celebrate the 250th birthday of Sotheby's, a British institution that is as much a part of the glamorous art scene in Europe as in the United States.

The head planter of this "host of golden daffodils" was Denny Wyndham, the young, aristocratic Etonian cricketer who is the new chairman of Sotheby's in London. He's the brother of Jane Churchill of the Marlborough set (she was once married to the Duke of Marlborough's younger brother Lord Charles Spencer-Churchill), and snappy Denny's first job was as assistant gardener to the Queen Mum. Can you bear it?

But what's a birthday without a cake and flowers? So Sotheby's came up with the mother of all cakes, an enormous white concoction pierced by spring flowers. This huge pastry was carried down New Bond Street in a coach and four by liveried horsemen -- would I prevaricate? -- and it stopped traffic all the way to Oxford Street. It was borne through Sotheby's double doors, this giant confection sprouting cherry blossoms, immense Dutch tulips and pink carnations, to be cut by the chairman of all the Sotheby's, A. Alfred Taubman, the Detroit shopping center mogul who turned a distinguished, if slightly lethargic, auction house into big business.

The real party, though, was the night before, given by Alfred and his wife, Judy, in the Peter Wilson Gallery, named after the late, legendary Sotheby's chairman who made Sotheby's the center of the art world. There were 250 guests, made up of some of the most prominent art collectors in the world and spiced up by a crowd of European royals, nobles and aristocrats, English grandees and American tycoons.

But if the hosts were American, the party couldn't have been more British, from the butler in a tailcoat with decorations, who called out all the grand names, to the Scotch Guard. (For those who think this is a company whose mission is to repel stains from upholstery, shame on you.) This is an ancient British regiment, which, in this case, supplied all the music for the party. As Alfred and Judy (in a beaded black sheath and a beautiful flower brooch) greeted the guests, these good-looking soldiers played light chamber music on their fiddles and flutes while the swells talked about the revival of the art market (oh, joy unbounded!) and the end of the recessions. Really?

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