On the first night of the highly anticipated Christie’s auction of 19th and 20th century art from the Rockefeller collection, sales exploded and topped $645 million, breaking records. The previous one-day record was held by the Yves Saint Laurent auction nearly a decade ago, with a take of $484 million.
The auction by Christie’s took place May 8-10 inside Rockefeller Plaza, which was built by John D. Rockefeller almost a century ago. The live auction is supplemented by an online auction, which ends May 11.
The auction features more than 1,500 lots from the collection of David Rockefeller and his wife, Peggy. David Rockefeller died in 2017, aged 101. He was the last surviving grandson of John D. Rockefeller and also held the distinction of being the world’s oldest billionaire, with a fortune exceeding $3 billion.
(Next: Picasso Nude Earns Highest Bid)
The highest-priced auction item of the night was a painting by Pablo Picasso called “Fillette à la corbeille fleurie” (“Girl with a Basket of Flowers”) which sold to an anonymous phone bidder for $115 million. The painting is controversial because it depicts a view of a nude young woman.
According to Picasso’s biographer John Richardson, the painting’s subject was a young lady who “sold her body as well as her roses outside the Moulin Rouge.”
Richardson explained further that the model, “Linda,” posed for other artists and painters, including the Italian painter and sculptor Amedeo Modigliani, who was well-known for his depictions of portraits and nudes.
Other top-earning paintings (there were 44 paintings among the 1,500 lots) included Claude Monet’s “Nymphéas en fleur” (“Waterlilies in Bloom”), which sold for nearly $85 million, and a work by Henri Matisse called “Odalisque couchée aux magnolias.”
The painting featured a semi-nude woman (Matisse’s muse Henriette Darricarrère) lounging happily on a couch; it sold for nearly $81 million.
It was David Rockefeller’s wish (which was outlined in his will) to have his possessions auctioned off with the proceeds going to charity. He personally selected 12 non-profit charities to received the monies, including the Council on Foreign Relations, the Museum of Modern Art, and Rockefeller University.
Wednesday evening’s offerings featured “Art of the Americas,” including pieces from Edward Hopper, Willem de Kooning, John Singer Sargent and Georgia O’Keefe.
Aside from much sought-after paintings, the Rockefeller collection offers varied items that run the gamut from a money clip to an amphora. The amphora (a Grecian vase that’s typically tall and slender with handles on either side of the neck) was a gift from David Rockefeller’s mother.
In his note about the item, Rockefeller wrote, “In an effort to encourage habits of orderliness in her sons, Mother offered these vases as a prize to the one who was able to keep his room neatest over of my brothers, and have enjoyed owning them ever since. During my last 20 years at Chase, they were displayed in my office at the bank.”
During their 50 years of marriage, David and Peggy (who died in 1996) harbored a massive collection of art, ceramics, furniture, home décor, statues, and paintings.
Their children were given the opportunity to select up to $1 million each in belongings, with the directive of selling the rest of the collection at fair market value.
The online auction features smaller, more personal items, including tableware, lamps and decorations.