Highlights from The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller

As the global tour begins in Hong Kong, we unveil a Rose Period Picasso handpicked from Gertrude Stein’s collection, the most important Matisse ever offered at auction, and other standout works from an unprecedented philanthropic auction


Left: Pablo Picasso, Fillette à la corbeille fleurie, 1905, in the library of Peggy and David Rockefeller’s 65th Street New York townhouse © 2017 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Right: Henri Matisse, Odalisque couchée aux magnolias, painted in Nice, 1923, hanging in the living room of their Hudson Pines home © 2017 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

‘Eventually,’ said David Rockefeller, ‘all these objects which have brought so much pleasure to Peggy and me will go out into the world and will again be available to other caretakers who, hopefully, will derive the same satisfaction and joy from them as we have over these past several decades.’

In spring of 2018, the sale of The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller  will take place at Christie’s Rockefeller Center Galleries in New York. In keeping with David Rockefeller’s pledge to direct the majority of his wealth to philanthropy and provide for the cultural, educational, medical, and environmental causes long supported by him and his wife, all of the Estate’s proceeds from the sales across a wide variety of categories will be donated to the Rockefeller family’s charities of choice. As such, it will be the most important philanthropic auction ever held.

A global tour of selected highlights begins in Hong Kong (24-27 November), followed by London, Los Angeles and New York in the spring of 2018. Each tour stop will reveal new facets of the collection. 

‘We are delighted to share this first exhibition, which is designed to re-introduce these masterpieces to the world after generations of care and stewardship by the Rockefeller family,’ says Marc Porter, Christie’s Chairman, Americas. ‘Our decision to begin the tour in Asia is in keeping with the Rockefeller family’s long commitment and philanthropic ties to the region, dating to John D. Rockefeller, Sr.’s first charitable gift to China in 1863. We look forward to sharing additional highlights of the collection as we proceed with the tour, leading to sales in New York next spring on behalf of the selected charities.’

The Peggy and David Rockefeller Collection was gathered over a lifetime and handed down from previous generations

Truly cross-category in nature, and reflecting the family’s wide-ranging interests and intellectual pursuits, The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller  was gathered over a lifetime and handed down from previous generations. It reveals the Rockefellers’ lasting passion for Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works of art, American paintings, English and European furniture, Asian works of art, European ceramics and Chinese export porcelain, silver, and American decorative arts and furniture, among other categories.

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Among the many celebrated artists featured in the collection are Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, Georges Seurat, Juan Gris, Paul Signac, Edouard Manet, Paul Gauguin, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Edward Hopper.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Fillette à la corbeille fleurie, 1905. Oil on canvas. 60⅞ x 26 in (154.8 x 66.1 cm). Estimate on request. This lot is offered in The Collection of David and Peggy Rockefeller: 19th & 20th Century Art, Evening Sale on 8 May at Christie’s in New York © 2017 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

A Rose Period masterpiece, executed in 1905, Picasso’s Fillette à la corbeille fleurie (Young Girl with a Flower Basket)  is a highlight of the collection. Rich in pathos in its depiction of bohemian life at the turn of the 20th century, this rare work is a tour de force of draughtsmanship and atmosphere. 

The painting has a rich provenance: it was acquired in 1905 by brother and sister Leo and Gertrude Stein, and passed to Alice B. Toklas upon Gertrude’s death in 1946, where it remained throughout Toklas’s lifetime for another 21 years. In 1968, David Rockefeller formed a group of important art collectors to acquire the renowned collection of Gertrude Stein. The collectors selected slips of numbered paper from a felt hat, and Mr. Rockefeller drew the first pick in the syndicate, so that he and Peggy were able to acquire their first choice, the Young Girl with a Flower Basket. They placed it in the library of their 65th Street New York townhouse.

Henri Matisse (1869-1954), Odalisque couchée aux magnolias, painted in Nice, 1923. Oil on canvas. 23¾ x 31⅞ in (60.5 x 81.1 cm). Estimate on request. This lot is offered in The Collection of David and Peggy Rockefeller: 19th & 20th Century Art, Evening Sale on 8 May at Christie’s in New York. © 2017 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Odalisque couchée aux magnolias, painted in Nice in 1923, is the most important work by Henri Matisse to be offered on the market in a generation. The subject of the odalisque, the reclining female figure, held special significance for Matisse as it presented the opportunity to measure his art against past masters. 

With its symphony of pattern and form, Odalisque couchée aux magnolias  has long been counted among the greatest of Matisse’s paintings in private hands. This sumptuous painting hung in the living room of Peggy and David’s Hudson Pines home. Odalisque couchée aux magnolias  is also the highest estimated work by Matisse ever to be offered at auction. 

Claude Monet (1840-1926), Nymphéas en fleur, circa 1914-1917. Oil on canvas. 63⅜ x 71⅛ in (160.9 x 180.8 cm). Estimate on request. This lot is offered in The Collection of David and Peggy Rockefeller: 19th & 20th Century Art, Evening Sale on 8 May at Christie’s in New York

Monet’s beloved garden at Giverny was a source of unending inspiration. Nymphéas en fleur  is among the largest, most brilliantly coloured and vigorously worked canvases that the artist executed — a glorious tribute to the natural world. This work belongs to a group of paintings Monet painted in a burst of creativity between 1914 and 1917, in the midst of the First World War. 

On the recommendation of Alfred Barr, the first director of the Museum of Modern Art, Peggy and David Rockefeller visited the Parisian dealer Katia Granoff and purchased the present painting in 1956. ‘One, which was almost certainly painted in the late afternoon and in which the water is a dark purple and the lilies stand out a glowing white, we bought immediately,’ David Rockefeller recalled in Memoirs.

An Imperial gilt-bronze figure of Amitayus, China, Kangxi Period (1662-1722). 16 ½ in (41.9 cm) high. Estimate: $400,000-600,000. This lot is offered in The Collection of David and Peggy Rockefeller: Travel & Americana on 10 May at Christie’s in New York

Leading the Chinese works of art from the collection is a magnificent gilt-bronze figure of Amitayus made in the imperial workshops by order of the Kangxi Emperor (1662-1722). In Chinese Buddhism, Amitayus is revered as the god of long life, and it is likely that this bronze was commissioned as a birthday gift for a member of the imperial family. 

The Kangxi Emperor was a devout Buddhist, and lavished patronage on Buddhist institutions. The substantial size and weight of this sculpture, and the fact that it was one of a celebrated group of such figures, means that a significant amount of material, both bronze and gold, was used in its creation.

Another important Chinese work is an imperial blue and white ‘dragon’ bowl, Xuande six-character mark in underglaze blue within a double circle and of the period (1426-1435). Two exuberantly painted five-clawed dragons, symbols of imperial authority, writhe around the sides of the bowl in pursuit of flaming pearls, while a third dragon appears within a circular medallion on the interior. 

Close inspection of the interior sides of the bowl reveals additional dragons rendered in a special technique known as anhua  (‘hidden decoration’). Combining superb painting and well-balanced composition, the blue and white porcelains produced during the reign of the Xuande Emperor are considered among the finest porcelains ever produced. An almost identical bowl, but with a cloud motif on the interior rather than a dragon, resides in the National Palace Museum, Taipei.

Among the works in the collection with important provenance are the selection of pieces from the Sèvres porcelain ‘Marly Rouge’ dessert service made for Emperor Napoleon I of France.

Described in the factory’s records as à fond rouge, papillons et fleurs  (red ground with butterflies and flowers), this dessert service was originally ordered by Napoleon for the palace in Compiègne. Records, however, show its delivery on 7, 8 and 18 October 1809 to the palace of Fontainebleau. It was to Fontainebleau that Napoleon retreated for a respite after the gruelling negotiations of the Treaty of Vienna, the signing of which at Schönbrunn Palace on 14 October 1809 ended hostilities between France and Austria.

During this month-long stay outside Paris at his favourite country retreat, Napoleon broke the news to his empress, Josephine de Beauharnais, that he was divorcing her. Despite or perhaps because of its association with Josephine, the service was part of the household effects Napoleon brought with him into exile on the island of Elba only five years later. 

Today, only one dolphin-footed compote and six plates remain at Fontainebleau, all recent acquisitions. Although plates have appeared on the art market in recent years, the portion of the service to be offered in the Rockefeller Collection includes pieces from the original delivery not seen on the art market since Abby Aldrich Rockefeller acquired the part-service more than 75 years ago.

Several generations of the Rockefeller family collected Chinese export porcelain with the above richly enamelled decoration, which came to be known as ‘Rockefeller pattern’. Each piece in the pattern is carefully painted with a beautifully detailed and completely unique Chinese scene, contained within sepia and gilt-patterned borders.  It was the most elaborate pattern made in the last great era of the China Trade, produced as just a few enormous dinner services for the most important China Traders of the day.  

John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (1874-1960) and his wife Abigail Aldrich Rockefeller (1874-1948) were great lovers of Chinese porcelain and owned a large service in the pattern. Their sons Nelson and David both continued to enjoy the ‘Rockefeller’ porcelain; David and Peggy Rockefeller acquired additional pieces to add to it, and used it for large dinner parties in their Manhattan townhouse.


The dining room in the family's New York townhouse, featuring one of the many superb dinner services offered in the sales

The sale of the collection will incorporate a series of live and online auctions. The online sales, which will run concurrently with the live auctions, will offer a curated selection of accessibly priced objects arranged by theme — ranging from porcelain to jewels — with estimates starting from as little as $200.

The Estate’s proceeds from the sale of The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller  will be distributed among charities including the American Farmland Trust, Americas Society, the Council on Foreign Relations, the David Rockefeller Fund, Harvard University, the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Rockefeller University, and the Stone Barns Restoration Corporation.

Christie’s is honoured to partner with VistaJet, our sponsor of the Rockefeller exhibitions and events

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