Dubbed the charitable fundraiser event of the decade, the Christie’s managed auction of ‘The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller’ has broken several records and has far exceeded all expectations. The collection included more than a thousand individual items of decorative art, 550 works of fine art, and 19 lots of jewellery. And it is not over yet.
To deal with the large volume and variety of artefacts, Christie’s divided the sale into two phases and several categories. The first phase, running between May 1 and 11 of this year, was divided into the 19th & 20th Century Art evening sale on May 8; the English & European Furniture, Ceramics and Decorations Part I, and the Art of the Americas evening sale on May 9; the Fine Art, English & European Furniture, Ceramics and Decorations Part II, and Travel and Americana sales on May 10.
Running parallel to these salesroom auctions was the ‘Online Sale’ from May 1 to 11, with the “prices ranging from $100 to $10,000,” there was “something for everybody including The Rockefeller Money Clip in gold, color lithographs by Manet, Vuillard and Signac, a teapot by Hester Bateman, a portrait by Ammi Phillips and a Spode apple green dessert service” states the Christie’s website.
The second phase is the ‘Magnificent Jewels’ sale scheduled to take place on June 12 in New York and will feature 19 lots of jewellery from the Collection.
The collection was expected to raise around $500 million for a dozen charitable causes but after a six-month promotional campaign, ten days of online sales, and three days of salesroom auctions at Christie’s Rockefeller Center, the total sale reached $832,573,469 (£613,941,113 or €698,302,524), shattering records in the process.
Hailed as the most significant charitable auction ever, the first phase of sales has already made the Rockefeller collection the most valuable fine and decorative arts collection in history, by nearly doubling $443 million raised by the Yves Saint Laurent et Pierre Bergé collection in 2009.
In the 19th & 20th Century Art sale, Picasso’s Fillette à la corbeille fleurie from his Rose Period raised $115 million, Monet’s Nymphéas en fleur raised just over $84 million, and Matisse’s Odalisque couchée aux magnolias sold for $80.75 million.
Seven works also managed to fetch over $30 million each. In the process, seven world auction artist records were broken for such illustrious names as Monet, Matisse, Corot, Delacroix, Seguin, Morandi and Redon. The final tally exceeded the collection estimate by $100 million. Bids were received from Europe, Asia, North and South America, and Australia representing 34 countries in total.
“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,” said David Rockefeller, Jr. after the auction.
“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.”
Marc Porter, Chairman of Christie’s Americas, added, “The twin goals of education and philanthropy have driven this project and we have been so gratified with the engagement from global audiences from the moment we launched the sale in Hong Kong last November. The Rockefeller legacy has resonated strongly, and we are thrilled with the results… with new price levels set for Monet, Matisse, Corot, and others, the bidding was testament to the taste, connoisseurship and standing of the Rockefeller family combined with a shared goal to achieve a great result for the charitable beneficiaries of the sale.”
The history of the Rockefeller collection begins with Abby Aldrich-Rockefeller, David Rockefeller’s mother, and the leader of a group of New York’s elite women known as the “Indomitable ladies,” who established and painstakingly nurtured the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Her passion for art and her impressive collection was inherited by her youngest son and his wife.
David Rockefeller travelled extensively as part of his various duties; as a military man (1942-1945), as a CEO of Chase Manhattan bank (1961–1981), as a representative of the U.S. Government and as part of the various NGOs in which he held leadership positions. He was often accompanied by his wife on these travels which is where a lot of the artefacts were purchased or presented as gifts.
All of the proceeds from the sale of the Peggy and David Rockefeller collection will be directed to philanthropies supported by them during their lifetimes in the fields of scientific research, higher education, support for the arts, sustainable economic development, and land conservation initiatives, among others.
According to the foundation, some of the philanthropies that will benefit include American Farmland Trust, Americas Society/Council of the Americas, Council on Foreign Relations, the David Rockefeller Fund, Harvard University, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, Mount Desert Land and Garden Preserve, the Museum of Modern Art, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Rockefeller University, and The Stone Barns Restoration Corporation – Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture
The collection also highlighted the Rockefeller family’s personal and professional ties to the Middle-east region which dates as far back as 1904.
“From the early 20th century to today, the Rockefeller family demonstrated an enduring interest in wider Middle East, collecting artworks and supporting conservation, education, and humanitarian efforts through their travels and charitable foundations. We are delighted to offer key examples from this region in the forthcoming Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller auctions, which have provided a global platform to showcase the power and dynamism of cultural patronage and the enduring legacy of philanthropy,” said Michael Jeha, Managing director of Christie’s Middle East, before the auction.
It included a 3,400-year-old Egyptian limestone bas-relief portrait fragment purchased in the 1920s by Abby Aldrich-Rockefeller during her family’s extensive travels throughout Egypt. The family also contributed extensively to Egyptian archaeological digs and conservation work.
Another artefact that David Rockefeller kept on his desk at Chase Manhattan office for two decades was the mid-13th-century Ayyubid dynasty incense burner from Syria. It is one of just six of its kind known to survive and the only one presently outside a museum.
The collection also included a rare portrait of the artist Reza ‘Abbasi, an Iranian work from 1676. Abbasi is regarded as one of the most innovative and influential of the Safavid artists.
After the tremendous success of the first phase of auctions, the expectation has been raised even higher for the second phase scheduled for June 12, 2018, in New York. And if the second phase is anything like the first, we are in for something truly special.