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Record-Breaking Rockefellers

By Karen HudesMay 10 2018

Following an exhibition that toured the world before landing at Christie's Rockefeller Center, the multiday auction of The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller (running May 8-10, and until May 11 for the online sale) has been historic in more ways than one. The exceptional quality of the collection, spanning exuberant works by Matisse, Monet, O'Keeffe, Rivera and many other 20th-century greats, the provenance of the Rockefeller family, the chart-topping bids and the philanthropic mission all make it a once-in-a-lifetime sale.

Media outlets including the New York Times, the Washington Post, NBC, the BBC, the Wall Street Journal, Vogue and Time all covered the momentous May 8 evening auction, a nail-biter in which the sales of Matisse's "Odalisque couchée aux magnolias" for $80.7 million and Monet's water lilies, "Nymphéas en fleur," for $84.7 million broke records for both artists, while Picasso's "Fillette à la corbeille fleurie" fetched the highest price at $115 million. The $646 million total for that night alone made it the highest-grossing single-owner auction in American history. The following night, the Art of the Americas sale brought the highest price to date for a Diego Rivera painting, "The Rivals," which sold for $9.7 million. Meanwhile, one of the daytime sales of Rockefeller furnishings set the record for 19th-century porcelain, with a set of Napoleon's butterfly-decorated Sèvres dinnerware (acquired initially by Abby Aldrich Rockefeller) going for $1.8 million. All of the proceeds will be going to 12 different charities.

With an eye to quirkier stories, the Times also talked to newcomers to the auction world who hoped to nab a piece of the Rockefeller legacy, but largely left empty-handed, while artnet rounded up some of the couple's more unusual possessions they'd love to take home. Ariana Rockefeller, the handbag designer and granddaughter of Peggy and David, wrote for Forbes about how her grandparents made their art and antiques part of daily life for family and friends to enjoy, and about the representation of female entrepreneurs in the collection.

For more auction highlights, take a behind-the-scenes peek inside the Christie's warehouse, where items for the online auction are stored, and read about MoMA founder Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, whose influence on the Rockefeller collection and the New York art world was vast. Keep up with coverage on the Christie's site, where you can also browse the online sale, ending Friday, May 11.

Photo of Claude Monet's "Nymphéas en fleur" (circa 1914–1917) courtesy of Christie's Images LTD 2018

Updated February 21, 2018:

Inheriting a legacy of arts appreciation and patronage from his visionary mother Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, a founder of MoMA, David Rockefeller, with his wife Peggy Rockefeller, went on to amass one of the most formidable private art collections in the world. Encompassing works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Georgia O'Keeffe, Edward Hopper, Claude Monet, Georges Seurat and Paul Gaugin, it emphasizes Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, as well as American and Asian art, European furniture and ceramics, Chinese porcelain and American decorative arts.

Following the passing of David Rockefeller last March at the age of 101, much of his wealth was donated to charities that he and Peggy supported and even founded over the past decades. The David and Peggy Rockefeller Collection, which will be auctioned in the spring at Christie's, will follow suit, as all of the proceeds will go to benefit nonprofit organizations, including American Farmland Trust, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, MoMA, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Rockefeller University and the Stone Barns Restoration Corporation. As Christie's notes, "It will be the most important philanthropic auction ever held."

Among the highlights are Matisse's "Odalisque couchée aux magnolias," which is expected to break the sale record for the artist, and Picasso's "Fillette à la corbeille fleurie," (estimated to sell for about $100 million), as well as a painting of an apple that Picasso gave as a gift to Gertrude Stein. The collection is currently touring around the world, and will be on view at Christie's at Rockefeller Center before the auction in May.

See some of the pieces in the slideshow above, and read more about the collection on the Christie's website, which is periodically featuring "Live like a Rockefeller" posts that delve into the details of particular furnishings and works of art. Stay tuned to Front & Center for more information leading up to the sale.

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