Rockefeller Collection Reaches $830 Million

Billionaires from around the world fought for a chance to own Peggy and David Rockefeller’s art trophies, sending paintings by Henri Matisse and Claude Monet to record prices at Christie’s in New York on Tuesday.

Among them was the evening’s most expensive work-- a 1905 Pablo Picasso painting of a teenage nude, “Fillette à la corbeille fleurie” -- that fetched $115 million, the highest price for the Spanish master after his $179.4 million record set three years ago. It had been estimated at $100 million.

Matisse’s 1923 painting “Odalisque couchee aux magnolias,” depicting a voluptuous woman with her arms folded behind her head on a green chaise longue also drew tepid bidding. It sold to Xin Li Cohen, deputy chairman of Christie’s Asia, on behalf of a client, for $80.7 million, compared with an estimate of $70 million. The price still smashed the French artist’s previous auction record of $48.8 million.

The premium to own a work from the Rockefeller family could be felt in frenzied bidding for many lower priced works in the collection.

Monet’s painting of a water-lily pond fetched $84.7 million, surpassing the estimated $50 million and establishing a new artist record. Painted during World War I, the canvas is rich in mauve and lilac as well as rougher, more muscular brush strokes.

The auction kicked off with a flurry of bids for a 5-by-7-inch watercolor of an apple by Picasso. Within seconds, bidding surpassed the estimated range of $1 million to $1.5 million, selling at $3.9 million. Titled “Pomme," the 1914 work was a Christmas gift to Gertrude Stein from the artist. Earlier that year, Stein and her brother Leo split up their storied art collection and she lost a beloved Cezanne painting of five apples. Picasso made up for the loss with a Cezanne-inspired drawing of his own, which he inscribed on the back. ‘It’s a piece that takes you straight into the history of art. A gift from Picasso to Gertrude Stein, the woman who’d made his career. It doesn’t get much better than that’ said Rendell, the curator of the collection.

Paul Gauguin’s “La Vague" fetched $35.2 million, almost twice the estimated $18 million. Painted in 1888 in Brittany, it depicts two massive black rocks during the North Atlantic surf, with two tiny figures rushing out of the water onto a red beach.

With the Estate’s sale proceeds going to selected charities, David & Peggy Rockefeller continue their long legacy of philanthropy. David Rockefeller, Jr. commented: ‘We are delighted to be partnering with Christie’s to create a significant fundraising opportunity for the philanthropies that are so important to the Rockefeller family. We are proud to fulfil my father’s wish to share with the world the art and objects that he and my mother collected over a lifetime together, and use them as means to continue the long legacy of Rockefeller family philanthropy first established by John D. Rockefeller.’

Gathered over a lifetime and handed down from previous generations, the collection reflects the Rockefeller family’s deep, life-long passion for Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works of art, American paintings, English and European furniture, Asian works of art, European ceramics and Chinese export porcelain silver, and American decorative arts and furniture. 

The Rockefeller family name is indelibly linked with the arts, culture, business and philanthropy around the world — and it is a fitting tribute that the auctions will be held in the heart of Rockefeller Center. David and Peggy Rockefeller were well-known not only for their monumental art collection, but also for their commitment to philanthropy which has benefited so many people around the world.

David Rockefeller (1915-2017) is remembered as one of the United States’ most deeply engaged and influential civic leaders. In the 1950s and 1960s he spearheaded the rebuilding and revitalization of Wall Street and that area’s emergence as the world’s financial capital, and later founded the Partnership for New York City to foster cooperation between the private sector and government. David Rockefeller led Chase Manhattan Bank for more than a decade, successfully expanding the bank’s international operations to more than 100 countries.

David was the last surviving grandson of John D. Rockefeller, the great industrialist who consolidated the American petroleum industry and founded the Standard Oil Company in the 19th century, subsequently building a fortune that made him one of America’s first billionaires and his family one of the richest and most influential in the nation’s history. Peggy McGrath Rockefeller (1915-1996) was a dedicated conservationist, a board member of the American Farmland Trust in Washington, and was a founder of the Maine Coast Heritage Trust in Topsham, Maine. David and Peggy married in 1940 and for more than half a century were true partners in family, philanthropy and art.

American Fine Art