True partners in art and intellect, the Weills collected the giants of Abstract Expressionism — many featured during 20th Century Week from 10–13 May
Across more than half a century, the collectors Guy and Marie-Hélène Weill engaged in an inspired and shared journey in fine art. The collectors’ life together was, in their telling, a ‘collaboration of like minds’.
Helen Frankenthaler (1928–2011), Hommage à Chardin, 1957. Oil on canvas. 39 3/4 x 52 in. (101 x 132.1 cm.) Estimate: $500,000–700,000. This work is offered in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Morning Session on 11 May at Christie’s New York
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Early patrons of Modernism and Abstract Expressionism, the couple expanded their connoisseurship in the latter decades of the 20th century to encompass a diversity of categories, including Impressionism and Asian art. The richness of the Weills’ assemblage of fine art was further illuminated by the couple’s unassuming reverence towards it. ‘Our collection is not a large one,’ Guy and Marie-Hélène Weill stated, ‘but it reflects our taste and judgment about what is worth living with day after day’.
Philip Guston (1913–1980), Untitled. Oil on paper mounted on masonite. 25 x 36 1/2 in. (63.5 x 92.7 cm.) Estimate: $300,000–500,000. This work is offered in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Morning Session on 11 May at Christie’s New York
The dynamic art scene of post-war New York provided the Weills with a wealth of opportunity in collecting and scholarship, and the couple were quick to embrace the new work of Abstract Expressionist and Neo-Expressionist artists such as Robert Motherwell, Helen Frankenthaler, Sam Francis and Phillip Guston.
For the collectors, acquiring fine art was a dialogue with artists and ideas. Motherwell, Frankenthaler, Larry Rivers, Louise Nevelson and Karel Appel all visited the Weill family on holiday in Cape Cod.
Guy and Marie-Hélène Weill on the shore of Lake of Geneva in 1950
In the late 1960s, the Weills visited the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco for the first time. Having embraced the boldness and spontaneity of Abstract Expressionism, the Weills were overwhelmed by the simple forms and graceful lines of Chinese painting, porcelain and bronzes, and they began carefully to build one of New York’s premier collections of Asian art.
At their Manhattan residence Modern and Post-War canvases came to stand alongside Southeast Asian statuary, fine Chinese paintings and other works of Asian art. The collectors’ devotion to Chinese painting was notable. ‘The Weills have collected at a level of excellence and enthusiasm that rivals that of distinguished Chinese connoisseurs,’ wrote former Metropolitan Museum of Art director Philippe de Montebello.
Catalogue cover of Cultivated Landscapes: Chinese Paintings from the Collection of Marie-Hélène and Guy Weill at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
In addition to the Met, the Weills were keen benefactors of the China Institute, the Asia Society, the Metropolitan Opera and the Arthur M. Sackler galleries at the Smithsonian Institution and Harvard University, among other eminent New York institutions. The couple donated many works, including their superb collection of Chinese paintings to the Met, which was commemorated by the 2002 exhibition Cultivated Landscapes: Chinese Paintings from the Collection of Marie-Hélène and Guy Weill.
Guy and Marie-Hélène Weill’s lifelong affinity for fine art transcended history and geography. They saw collecting as an essential means of engaging with the world. ‘For us,’ the couple explained, ‘art is, and always has been, life.’