Everything You Should Know About the Rockefeller Art Collection

Staying true to the Rockefeller legacy, David Rockefeller is still breaking records even after his death last year. The last surviving grandson of America’s first billionaire John D. Rockefeller, David Rockefeller’s private art collection recently became the most valuable single-owner private sale in American history, with more than 1,500 pieces being auctioned off in a four-day period. The impressive collection included works by Henri Matisse, Claude Monet, Georgia O’Keeffe and Pablo Picasso.


Though now considered one of the greatest art collectors of the 20th century, Rockefeller had no interest in art collection until Marga Barr, wife of the Museum of Modern Art’s first director, visited his home in 1948 and 
insulted the art he had on the walls. After that, Rockefeller and his wife Peggy decided to increase the quality of art they displayed in their home. Barr and her husband helped educate the Rockefellers about late 19th-century and early 20th-century artwork and offered them guidance as they started to acquired Impressionist and modern pieces.

 

The massive collection contains more than just paintings; the Rockefellers also collected furniture and porcelain, including a 256-piece Sèvres dessert service set that Napoleon brought with him after being exiled to Elba. The set sold for $1.8 million, setting a record for highest price paid for 19th-century porcelain.

As a child, Rockefeller’s father expected he give one-third of his allowance to charity. The importance of giving back to others was a lesson stayed with him until his death; all of the money raised at the auction will go to various nonprofit organizations close to Rockefeller’s heart, including the Museum of Modern Art, Harvard University, Rockefeller University and the Maine Coast Heritage Trust.


After the four-day auction concluded,
22 world records were broken and all pieces were sold for a total of $832 million. On the first night alone, over $646 million was made in sales. A “Rose Period” piece of Picasso’s, Fillette a la corbeille fleurie, sold for $115 million, the highest ever paid for a painting from that period of his work. This piece was previously owned by Gertrude Stein and was obtained by Rockefeller after the death of her partner Alice B. Toklas. A piece from Monet’s water lilies collection, Nympheas en fleur, sold for $84.7 million, the highest ever paid for one of his works. And, a Henri Matisse painting, Odalisque couchée aux magnolias, sold for $80 million, also a record-high for one of his pieces.

Beginners Guide to Art Auctions

The battlefield in the art world has always taken place at the art auctions where wealthy collectors and art speculators have all converged in the salesroom to compete with each other. It provides a strange delight for the onlookers who have attended the event to specifically have a look at all the action. When an art auction performs poorly, it undermines the confidence of the entire industry. For those getting started, it can be tremendous fun to watch, and sometimes the record-high prices elicit a gasp and roaring applause. If a person has no familiarity with the baroque logic of the art auctions, it might sound like an impenetrable mystery.

 

The Auctioneer

The showman of the art world, the auction employs humor and drama to raise the prices even from the most reluctant of bidders. Each auctioneer has his signature style, and the younger generation of art gavelers has leaned more towards the edgy and in-your-face style.

 

The Hammer

Known as the Excalibur of the auctioneer, he wields this combination of baton and judge’s gavel with astounding alacrity. When it comes down, sometimes it taps the table lightly. Other times, a crashes with an unmistakable thunk to show a sale has been completed.

 

Paddle

A snooty cousin of the ping pong paddle, this numbered instrument gets used as a telegraph to bid. Many of the high-flying buyers have chosen one of the more discreet approached to help in signaling the auctioneer, but sometimes the process can be as simple as nodding.

 

Appraisal

An appraisal gives the art collector the approximate market value of the items at the auction house. This is the process of developing an informed opinion on the value of an art collection. This will get assigned to a lot from the specialists of the auction house.

 

Estimate

The estimate is what a particular work will fetch in the sale. Art collectors will see both the high end of the estimate and the lower estimate. For example, they might have something that says anywhere from $14,000,000 to $18,000,000.

 

These are some of the terms for a beginner to understand about art auctions. Sometimes a dealer will bid on behalf of an artist he or she represents, and he ensures that the price of the work never drops below a specific price range.

Rockefeller’s Art Collection to be Auctioned

Many people hope to live a long and happy life. David Rockefeller accomplished just that. At the age of 101, the financial mogul passed away but was sure to leave his mark on society. Earlier this month it was announced that many of Rockefeller’s personal items are being put up for sale including his NYC penthouse. The most noteworthy piece of Rockefeller’s estate going for auction is his art collection. A collection that was obtained over six decades is now heading to Christie’s auction house for what is likely to be the auction of the century.

 

David and his wife Penny were extremely active art enthusiasts. In 1994, the Museum of Modern Art used the couple’s lavish collection as the subject of one of their exhibitions. The Rockefeller’s had a strong relationship with MoMA. Thus, earnings from the auction will go to the museum, along with other philanthropic organizations. As one of the first members of “The Giving Pledge”, Rockefeller generously promised to donate more than half of his worth upon his passing. David Rockefeller Jr., has publicly stated his family’s willingness to fulfill his father’s wishes by contributing the auction earnings to charity.

 

The Rockefeller’s personal art collection has an estimated 15,000 pieces. Christie’s has received about 2,000 works of art from the compilation. With selections from the Impressionist, post-Impressionist and modern eras, the auction will earn around $500 million or more. Experts are already calling it the art auction of this and last century. In 2009, the art collection of Yves Saint Laurent auctioned at a record-breaking $484 million. It seems as though the Rockefellers are more than likely to steal this title. Prior to the auction in the spring of next year, the collection will travel around America, Europe, and Asia. None of the items for auction have been revealed and it is likely that they will remain private until the tour.

 

It seems as though the generous and philanthropic nature of David and Peggy Rockefeller will live on. As they lived their lives full of compassion and selflessness, so will their legacy. For those fortunate enough to buy a piece from this collection, they will own a legendary work of art with a great sentimental history.