Sale of Rockefeller's art to benefit a dozen charities

Philanthropist David Rockefeller contributed almost $2 billion to various causes during his lifetime.
Philanthropist David Rockefeller contributed almost $2 billion to various causes during his lifetime.PHOTO: REUTERS

Banker David Rockefeller's collection will be sold at auction house Christie's next year

NEW YORK • The vast art collection of banker and philanthropist David Rockefeller, who died in March, will be sold at Christie's next year, the auction house said on Tuesday.

His estate is selling more than 2,000 objects, including modern art masterpieces, Chinese export porcelain, American paintings and European furniture, according to Christie's.

The auction house plans to offer the works next year in a series of special sales in New York, according to a statement. Its results could be the largest tally in auction history, according to current and former auction specialists.

"It will be the sale of this century and the last as well," said Mr David Norman, a private art dealer and former co-chairman of Sotheby's Impressionist and modern art department. "Every work lives up to the Rockefeller name. It's a perfect match of a great historic family and a great historic collection."

The proceeds will go to about 12 charities that Mr Rockefeller and his late wife Peggy supported during their lifetime, according to Mr Fraser P. Seitel, a spokesman for the estate. When Mr Rockefeller died at age 101, he was the last surviving grandson of Standard Oil founder John D. Rockefeller, the nation's first billionaire.

While Christie's declined to comment on the value of the collection, Mr Marc Porter, its chairman of Americas, said it will be the largest auction for philanthropy in history.

According to Christie's statement, Mr Rockefeller said: "Eventually, all these objects which have brought so much pleasure to Peggy and me will go out into the world and will again be available to other caretakers who, hopefully, will derive the same satisfaction and joy from them as we have over these past several decades."

Proceeds from the auctions will benefit non-profit organisations and charities, including the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), which was co-founded by his mother Abby Aldrich Rockefeller; Rockefeller University, a medical- research school started by his grandfather; and Harvard University, his alma mater.

Mr Rockefeller was well known for his philanthropy, contributing close to US$2 billion to various causes during his life, said Mr Seitel.

"David was extremely generous, but he was also very practical," said Mr Seitel. "He was the essence of taking responsibility even for the money he left to others. He orchestrated exactly what was to be done. No surprises."

An avid collector, Mr Rockefeller promised about 30 significant artworks to MoMA, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, Mr Seitel said. Those works will be excluded from the Christie's auctions.

Christie's competed for the collection with rival Sotheby's, which offered the Rockefellers a guarantee of more than US$650 million in 2013, according to a person familiar with the matter. Sotheby's spokesman declined to comment.

Mr Porter declined to comment on the terms, but said Christie's was chosen for the sale during Mr Rockefeller's life.

The auction house's top sale of a collection was that of fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge, which tallied US$484 million in February 2009, according to the firm.

Competitor Sotheby's top estate sale was the collection of its former chairman, Mr A. Alfred Taubman, that tallied US$469 million (S$648 million) in 2015 and last year, according to the company.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 09, 2017, with the headline 'Sale of Rockefeller's art to benefit a dozen charities'. Print Edition | Subscribe