Art: Dismantling an Opulent Fossil

Treasures from Ben Sonnenberg's mansion go on auction

In recent years it was the greatest private house in New York: not comparable to the great mansions of Fifth Avenue at their height of extravagance in the Brown Decades, but an astonishing survivor, a solid, heavy and opulent fossil, that went on living long after estate taxes had killed its rivals. It stood, 37 rooms of it, on the southern side of Gramercy Park, that most Jamesian of Manhattan's squares, and last week it was proceeding, slowly and irreversibly, to come apart, as the photographers, appraisers...

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