Imagine spending your life collecting art that you love from around the world. Well, that’s precisely what Peggy and David Rockefeller did. Over a lifetime together, they amassed a spectacular and diverse art collection that was literally worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Peggy and David Rockefeller: Art Lovers and Philanthropists
According to their son, David Jr., the Rockefellers bought art with the thought of living with it. In fact, both of them had to like a piece before they’d put it in their homes. They purchased pieces they loved and used them to decorate their living spaces or, as in the case of some beautiful Chinese porcelain dinnerware sets, entertain their guests. And although they didn’t buy art as an investment per sé, over time, many pieces appreciated in value.
In addition to art, the couple was passionate about philanthropy. David Rockefeller was involved in giving back from an early age, even delivering food to the poor. Over his lifetime, he donated almost $2 billion, including 1,000 acres of land to the state of Maine on his 100th birthday. And in 1986, Peggy Rockefeller founded Synergos, a non-profit organization that aims to reduce poverty in the developing world.
The Reason for the Auction
Twenty-one years after his wife’s death, David Rockefeller passed away in 2017 at the age of 101. In keeping with the couple’s dedication to philanthropy, he had specified that their art collection was to be sold at auction. The proceeds were to go to approximately a dozen institutions and charities that the couple deeply cared about during their lives, including the Americas Society/Council of the Americas, Council on Foreign Relations, The David Rockefeller Fund, Harvard University, the Museum of Modern Art, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Rockefeller University, American Farmland Trust, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, The Stone Barns Restoration Corporation and Mount Desert Land and Garden Preserve.
Highlights of the Auction
After six months of campaigning around the world under the tagline “Live like a Rockefeller,” Christie’s auctioned the Rockefeller collection from 1 to 11 May 2018. Due to the scope of the collection, it was divided into various auctions, including 19th and 20th Century Art; English and American Furniture, Ceramics and Decorations Parts I & II; Art of the Americas; Fine Art; Travel and Americana; and The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller, Online Sale.
Amazingly, although Christie’s predicted the collection would sell for a total of $500 million, the final amount was almost $832.6 million — over $300 million more than estimated. That was in large part a result of the numerous records set during the three full days of live auctions and 10 days of online sales. Logically, many of the records were due to the impressive provenance of the works. Here are just a few of the auction’s highlights:
- Pablo Picasso’s 1905 Fillette à la corbeille fleurie sold for $115 million. The painting, which is from Picasso’s Rose Period, is a nude of a girl the painter referred to as “Linda,” which means “pretty” in Spanish.
- Claude Monet’s Nymphéas en fleur, painted between 1914 and 1917, sold for almost $84.7 million, which was $50 million above the estimated selling price and a new record for the artist.
- Henri Matisse’s Odalisque couchée aux magnolias, painted in 1923, was bought for $80,750,000, an artist auction record.
- Joan Miro’s Mural I, Mural II and Mural III, all painted in 1933, were bought for $20 million.
- Willem de Kooning’s 1982 abstract Untitled XIX was purchased for more than $14.2 million, well over the estimated selling price of $8 million.
- Paul Gauguin’s La Vague, created in 1888 and widely considered to be one of the most unique seascapes ever painted, sold for $35,187,500.
Photos by Adam Zimmerman at Christie’s
- Diego Rivera’s 1931 The Rivals sold for almost $9.8 million — $2.8 million over its estimated selling price. This broke the record for a work of a Latin American artist, which was formerly held by Rivera’s wife Frida Kahlo. Her 1939 work Dos Desnudos en el bosque (La tierra misma) was sold in 2016 at Christie’s for $8,005,000.
- An exquisite Xuande-period anhua-decorated blue and white dragon bowl, created between 1425 and 1435, sold for $2,772,500 — well over the estimated selling price of $100,000 to $150,000.
- Breaking records for any 19thcentury porcelain sold at auction, a Sèvres Marly Rouge dinner service, commissioned by Napoleon I, fetched $1,812,500.
- A gilt-bronze figure of Amitayus, a Buddhist deity of longevity, dating from the Kangxi period (1662 – 1722) sold for $2,532,500. Its selling price had been estimated at $400,000 to $600,000.
- A 1910 John Haynes Williams Whistling Swan swan decoy, estimated at $100,000 to $150,000, sold for $348,500.
In June, another 19 lots will be sold at the Magnificent Jewels auction. Among the pieces will be the stunning Raymond Yard diamond engagement ring that David Gave to Peggy when he proposed to her in 1940. The ring, estimated at $80,000 to $120,000, features a 5.63 carat cut-cornered rectangular step-cut diamond and epaulet and triangular-cut diamond shoulders.
Get a Discreet, Compassionate Appraisal
Even if you’re not a Rockefeller, you might want to sell an antique or piece of fine art. In that case, you can rely on Syl-lee Antiques to provide you with a discreet appraisal and quick sale. Over the past 40 years, we have earned our reputation as fine art and antiques experts by providing outstanding service — one customer at a time. Because we understand that parting with your beloved possessions can be upsetting, our experts perform in-house, no-obligation appraisals. And if you decide to sell, we will handle the transaction on the spot, with the least amount of hassle to you. Contact us today for more information.