Doris Duke was a complex, adventurous, highly intelligent woman born ahead of her time. She was the only child of James Buchanan 'Buck' Duke, a founder of the American Tobacco Company and the Duke Power Company and a benefactor of Duke University in his native North Carolina.

Doris Duke approached life with an attitude that anything was possible and explored the world with wise and curious eyes. She was determined not to let the conventions of the wealthy dictate how she spent her time and instead used her resources to explore her diverse interests—travel, the arts, historic preservation, environmental conservation, wildlife and horticulture.

She spent years building and restoring various properties and thoughtfully filled them with collections of personally chosen items.

Throughout her lifetime she amassed an extraordinary array of jewelry, wine, French and English furniture, and decorative objects, and she was one of the earliest American collectors of Islamic and Southeast Asian art.

From a young age Doris Duke innovatively blended her passions with philanthropic pursuits. Today, her legacy, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, provides grants for the performing arts, wildlife conservation, medical research, and the prevention of child maltreatment.

Doris Duke also left three of her properties to the Foundation to be opened for educational purposes: Duke Farms in Hillsborough, New Jersey; Shangri La in Honolulu, Hawaii; and Rough Point in Newport, Rhode Island.

While she would occasionally appear in American and European society, Doris Duke used much of her time to explore the still remote areas of the Near East, Africa, India, and Southeast Asia. Whether travelling on lengthy safaris, singing in the choir at a southern Baptist meeting, or attending a society party in New York, Doris Duke always stood out as a decisive, highly intelligent and cultivated figure.

The breadth of Doris Duke's collections, which Christie's will sell to benefit the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, illustrates her wide range of interests.

Doris Duke inherited a superb selection of jewelry from her family, including a magnificent example of a Belle Époque diamond, pearl and platinum garland necklace by Cartier (one of the most important and beautiful necklaces representing this era).

Also impressive is the Tiffany ring, set with a rectangular diamond of 19.72 carats, circa 1935, which originally belonged to Doris Duke's mother Nanaline. Doris Duke added to her collection and commissioned pieces by Cartier that incorporated historic carved gems, particularly emeralds, from the Mughal period of Indian history.

She was also interested in iconic pieces by modernist designers such as Verdura, Seaman Schepps and David Webb, with whom Doris Duke collaborated to create her striking ruby and diamond necklace.

Doris Duke was also a well-informed and passionate collector of wine. The contents of her private cellars from Duke Farms, her beloved house in New Jersey, and Shangri La, her Islamic-style residence in Hawaii, are extraordinary.

Approximately two thousand bottles of the world's most sought-after wines are to be offered for sale. Highlights include a case of Möet & Chandon Dom Pérignon, vintage 1921, one of the first 100 cases to become commercially available in the United States, La Mission Haut Brion, vintage 1929 and Romanée-Conti, vintage 1934.

This superlative collection represents wines of a vanished era and is one of the finest to be offered in recent years.

The selection of English and French furniture, paintings and objets d'art to be sold from Duke Farms and Rough Point also demonstrate Doris Duke's varied knowledge of the history of furniture design.

Historic pieces such as the Badminton overmantel mirror, a virtuoso display of 18th-century craftsmanship and design, punctuate this part of the sale.

The mirror, one of the finest examples of English Chinoiserie decoration, was supplied to Charles, 4th Duke of Beaufort, for the celebrated Chinese bedroom at Badminton House. The Queen Anne (wyvern) giltwood and gilt-metal chandelier, circa 1710, is another handsome and historic offering.

One of the most celebrated and rarest forms to survive, it is based on the well-known French designs of Danile Marot, published in the Hague in 1703 and 1713.

Doris Duke left behind a legacy dedicated to improving the quality of people's lives. The continuing mission of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation reflects the many interests of one of the most extraordinary women of the 20th century. The series of sales featuring some of her wonderful possessions is an additional testament to the life and times of an American original.

Amy Wexler has written for numerous publications including Saveur and Garden Design.

Also read:
East meets West in the many spectacular homes of the glamorous heiress >
Western treasures, Eastern inspiration >
The Extraordinary Private Cellar of Doris Duke >

Back to top