Rockefeller art collection sold for record US$832m

Up for auction were treasures that included furniture and porcelain (above) and paintings such as Diego Rivera's "Los Rivales" (left). Although the sale did not cross the US$1 billion threshold as speculated, it did break numerous records.
Up for auction were treasures that included furniture and porcelain (above) and paintings such as Diego Rivera's "Los Rivales". Although the sale did not cross the US$1 billion threshold as speculated, it did break numerous records.PHOTOS: NYTIMES, EPA-EFE
Up for auction were treasures that included furniture and porcelain (above) and paintings such as Diego Rivera's "Los Rivales" (left). Although the sale did not cross the US$1 billion threshold as speculated, it did break numerous records.
Up for auction were treasures that included furniture and porcelain and paintings such as Diego Rivera's "Los Rivales" (above). Although the sale did not cross the US$1 billion threshold as speculated, it did break numerous records.PHOTOS: NYTIMES, EPA-EFE

NEW YORK • In what was billed as the "sale of the century", the art collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller, comprising 1,500 pieces, sold at auction for a record-breaking US$832.5 million (S$1.1 billion), auction house Christie's said last Friday.

The figure eclipsed the previous record held by the collection of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge, which sold for US$484 million in 2009.

Coming after the extraordinary US$450 million sale last November of Leonardo da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi", also at Christie's, there had been some speculation that the billion-dollar threshold could be crossed by this sale.

Organised over 10 days, including online sales, it nonetheless broke numerous records, testament to the rude health of the global art market.

The collection's crown jewel was Pablo Picasso's "Fillette a la corbeille fleurie", a part of the Rockefeller Collection since 1968. It auctioned last Tuesday for US$115 million, one of the most expensive Picassos ever sold.

Art market veterans were also particularly struck by the strength of bidding for impressionist lots like Monet's "Nympheas en fleur", given the current cultural focus on contemporary art, and the consensus that the work was not one of the artist's best water lily pieces.

Nevertheless, the painting prompted frenzied activity in the room and on the phones, ultimately selling for US$85 million with fees, a considerable jump from its US$50 million estimate.

The auction also saw a record-breaking sale for Henri Matisse's "Odalisque couchee aux magnolias", which went for US$80.7 million.

Latin American art meanwhile also hit a new peak with the sale of Diego Rivera's "Los Rivales" for US$9.7 million, a new record for art from the region.

Mr David Rockefeller, the grandson of the legendary magnate John Rockefeller, died last year at the age of 101, more than 20 years after the death of his wife Peggy.

Collectors and dealers generally agreed that the provenance of the prominent couple, together with Christie's savvy marketing campaign ("Live like a Rockefeller"), amounted to a magical alchemy of sorts that resulted in strong sales across the board.

"Whether you've been in the market forever or you're coming into the market today, you really do have to honour the history here," said art adviser Sandy Heller. "It's like things coming out of Buckingham Palace - this is what they were for this country and culture."

Mr Rockefeller had embraced his family's tradition of philanthropy and inherited his taste in art from his mother, who co-founded New York's Museum of Modern Art.

The proceeds will go to a number of nonprofit bodies, including Mr Rockefeller's alma mater Harvard University, as well as Maine National Park, which was beloved by the family and to which he donated a thousand acres for his 100th birthday.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 13, 2018, with the headline 'Rockefeller art collection sold for record US$832m'. Print Edition | Subscribe