Published: May 16, 2018
Review and Onsite Photos by Madelia Hickman Ring, Catalog Photos Courtesy Christie’s
NEW YORK CITY – It was a sale of sales, worthy of all the superlatives touted in exhibition reviews and pre-sale press. The collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller, conducted by Christie’s in the midtown complex that bears the Rockefeller’s name, crossed the block in five sessions spread out over three days. A staggering number of items – approximately 1,500 lots, including more than 650 lots sold online – realized an astonishing $832,573,469, easily assuming the title of “Highest Total for a Private Collection” and, with all proceeds going to benefit 12 charities, “Most Significant Charitable Auction Ever.” With every lot offered selling, the sale also earned the “white glove” distinction. Over the course of the sales, records were set for 18 artists, with additional records for several decorative objects.
Christie’s went all out promoting the sale. In the fall, the firm launched a tour of Rockefeller collection highlights that previewed in Hong Kong, London, Paris, Los Angeles, Beijing and Shanghai, where lots were seen by nearly 50,000 international visitors. Approximately 30,000 visitors attended the two-week preview at the Rockefeller Center flagship, which was transformed to show the lots to their best advantage. Decoys were arranged on stands as if they were swimming. Gilt-edged porcelain plates in every color were artfully arranged on a large graduated stand that resembled a wedding cake. The main salesroom was ringed with low plinths upon which were placed gleaming lots of furniture, set against a backdrop of greenery; in the center of the room, a pavilion had been erected that displayed the Rockefellers’ extensive collection of porcelain figures. Dramatic lighting and a running background soundtrack evoked a summer evening, at sunset.
Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Art
The heart of the Rockefellers’ collection was their eagerly anticipated Nineteenth and Twentieth Century art, of which 44 lots were sold in the first session, conducted the evening of May 8. The top lots of the sale were Picasso’s, “Fillette à la corbeille fleurie,” which realized $115 million, Monet’s “Nymphés en fleur,” which totaled $84,687,500, and Matisse’s “Odalisque couchée aux magnolias,” which sold for $80,750,000. The session saw artists’ records set for Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Eugène Delacroix, Armand Seguin, Giorgio Morandi and Odilon Redon. With all lots selling, the session grossed $646,133,594.
English and European Furniture, Ceramics and Decorations, Part I
So extensive was the Rockefellers’ collection of English and European decorative arts that it was sold in two sessions, the first conducted May 9. Approximately 250 lots crossed the block, led by the “Marly Rouge” service of Sevres porcelain iron-red and sky-blue ground part dessert service made for Napoleon I, circa 1807-09, which realized $1,812,500, a new world record for Nineteenth Century porcelain. Finishing closely on its heels was a large Chinese export “tobacco leaf” assembled dinner service, Qianlong period, circa 1775, that set a record for a dinner service when it closed at $1,152,500. All lots sold for a combined session total of $12,367,750.
Art of the Americas
David Rockefeller’s mother, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, was one of the founders of the Museum of Modern Art, so it was not a surprise that Rockefeller shared his mother’s passion for American modern art. Leading the session, which crossed the block the evening of May 9, was Willem DeKooning’s “Untitled XIX,” which brought 14,262,500. Gilbert Stuart’s Vaughn portrait of George Washington also set a record for the artist when it brought $11,562,500. Rounding out the top three was Diego Rivera’s “The Rivals,” which set a record for both the artist and for any Latin American painting when it sold for $9,762,500. An additional five artist records set, for Charles Ephraim Burchfield, Morris Cole Graves, Stefan Hirsch, Fairfield Porter and Charles Sheeler. All 41 lots in the session sold, for a combined total of $106,883,500, making it the top-grossing American art sale.
Fine Art Day Sale
Most of the Rockefellers’ art was offered in a day session on May 10. Nearly 90 lots of fine art, including drawings, sculpture and prints were sold, achieving a session total of $43,041,250, more than doubling the low estimate of $21 million. The session was led by Henry Moore’s “Oval Sculpture” that sold for $3,972,500 against a high estimate of $500,000. Taking second place honors was “La barque aux deux femmes blanches” by Odilon Redon, selling for $ 3,132,500. The third highest selling lot was Camille Pissarro’s “Fèlix Pissarro lisant,” which more than tripled its low estimate ($900,000-$1.2 million) to close at $3,012,500. During the session, world auction records were established for two artists, Elizabeth Strong-Cuevas and Saliba Douaihy.
English and European Furniture, Ceramics and Decorations, Part II
The second half of the Rockefellers’ English and European decorative arts was offered throughout the day on May 10. Nearly 300 lots crossed the block in a marathon session that began in the afternoon and did not finish until approximately 9 pm. The top lot of the sale was a set of six George III “Gothick” Windsor armchairs which sold for $336,500 against a high estimate of $80,000. Several lots realized $300,000, including the Chelsea porcelain plaice tureens, an English inlaid and polychrome-painted satinwood and amaranth side table, and an assembled Worcester and Chamberlain’s Worcester porcelain “Bengal Tiger” part dinner service, circa 1770-1810. Among the unusual and highly sought-after lots were an English wicker picnic hamper that soared to a total of $212,500 against a high estimate of $10,000 and an American hooded Spider phaeton from the late Eighteenth or early Nineteenth Centuries with DR monogram, that ran away from its estimate ($12/14,000) to park at $225,000. The session totaled $7,980,750, with all lots selling.
Travel and Americana
David and Peggy Rockefeller loved to travel and enjoyed collecting on their extensive travels. The final live session of the Rockefeller collection featured antiquities, African and Oceanic, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Islamic and Southeast Asian works of art, as well as American folk art and decoys. The entire session realized $11,636,375 from nearly 200 lots in a session that began at 9 pm and finished at 2 am. The session was led by a rare Anhua-decorated blue and white “dragon” bowl with Xuande six-character mark in underglaze blue, 1426-35, which realized $2,772,500 against an estimate of $100/150,000. The cover lot for the session – a Kangxi period Imperial Chinese gilt-bronze figure of Amitayus, 1662-1722 – finished at $2,532,500, more than six times the estimate ($400/600,000).
Americana and duck decoys are in a separate review.
More than 650 lots were sold in an online only sale that realized a total of $ 4,536,500.
Nineteen lots of Peggy Rockefeller’s jewels will be sold in Christie’s June 12 sale of Magnificent Jewels.
In a statement released on behalf of the extended Rockefeller family, David Rockefeller Jr said:
“This week of auctions has exceeded our expectations in so many ways. Christie’s and our family had a shared financial goal of raising more than $500 million in estate proceeds for the 12 philanthropies our parents cared about so deeply, and it has been both humbling and deeply gratifying to see a sale total that reaches so far beyond that. These funds will provide very meaningful support to important institutions and foundations devoted to scientific research and higher education, support for the arts, foreign policy and the conservation of coastal and agricultural lands.
“We are grateful to the Christie’s team for the deep care and attention they took in presenting our parents’ collection to the world over this past year. This was an experience that beautifully and thoroughly conveyed Peggy and David Rockefeller’s great passion for art, design, craftsmanship and beauty. Just as my siblings and our own children are full of pride and gratitude at the end of this historic week, we know our parents would feel the same.”
Prices, with buyer’s premium, as reported by the auction house.
Christie’s is at 20 Rockefeller Plaza. For information, 212-636-2000 or www.christies.com.
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