The Collection of Robert and Sylvia Olnick

Chairman Laura Paulson and Chairman Emeritus Stephen Lash on the ‘glamorous’ Olnicks and their collection, which included works by de Kooning, Albers, Lichtenstein, Rauschenberg and other post-war greats

‘Their collection was very much a partnership’, Laura Paulson, Chairman, says of Robert S. Olnick and his wife Sylvia. Travelling the world in the the 1940s and 1950s, the Olnicks were ‘always very glamorous, always very much about looking at the new.’ 

Sylvia and Robert Olnick. Courtesy of the Olnick family

Sylvia and Robert Olnick. Courtesy of the Olnick family

In the 1960s, that meant the New York School and its members, including Willem de Kooning. His 1967 Seated Woman, a ‘lushly painted, beautiful figure, sensuous and painterly’, is a highlight of the couple’s collection, and a later work from his iconic series started in the 1950s.

The Collection of Robert and Sylvia Olnick. Willem de Kooning (1904–1997), Seated Woman, 1966. Signed and dated ‘de Kooning ‘66’ (lower right). Oil on newsprint mounted on panel. 22½ x 28¾ in (57.2 x 73 cm). This work is offered in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Morning Sale on 16 November at Christie’s New York

The Collection of Robert and Sylvia Olnick. Willem de Kooning (1904–1997), Seated Woman, 1966. Signed and dated ‘de Kooning ‘66’ (lower right). Oil on newsprint mounted on panel. 22½ x 28¾ in (57.2 x 73 cm). This work is offered in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Morning Sale on 16 November at Christie’s New York

Also featured are major works from Roy Lichtenstein, which include nods to other giants of art history. In Sleeping Muse (1983) Lichtenstein references Constantin Brancusi, ‘creating a whole new way of looking at this work’, while Despair (1979), an ‘incredibly powerful’ composition, was inspired by a woodcut by Erich Heckel. 

‘The Olnick Collection falls into a special category of sales. It was bought with love, with passion, knowledge and good advice’ Stephen Lash

Later, Sylvia Olnick would expand her horizons to include the work of Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger, Vik Muniz and Michelangelo Pistoletto, having been inspired by her daughters’ introduction to a new generation of cutting-edge contemporary artists. 

The Collection of Robert and Sylvia Olnick. Roy Lichtenstein (1923–1977), Sleeping Muse, 1983. Incised with the artist’s signature, number, foundry insignia and date ‘R.F. Lichtenstein ’83 66’ (on the base). Patinated bronze. 25⅝ x 34¼ x 4 in (65.1 x 87 x 10.2 cm). This work is number six from an edition of six. This work is offered in the

The Collection of Robert and Sylvia Olnick. Roy Lichtenstein (1923–1977), Sleeping Muse, 1983. Incised with the artist’s signature, number, foundry insignia and date ‘R.F. Lichtenstein ’83 6/6’ (on the base). Patinated bronze. 25⅝ x 34¼ x 4 in (65.1 x 87 x 10.2 cm). This work is number six from an edition of six. This work is offered in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 15 November at Christie’s New York

‘What’s unusual about Sylvia is that late in life, she also collected younger artists, such as Pistoletto,’ says Stephen Lash, Chairman Emeritus of Christie’s. ‘It’s interesting to watch an older person reinvent themselves in a very exciting way.’

As a result of their many travels, the Olnick residences in New York and Palm Beach were filled with paintings, drawings and sculptures from artists such as Josef Albers, Agnes Martin, Alexander Calder, Hans Hofmann and Robert Rauschenberg, among others. ‘The Olnicks collected some of the great names of the last 50 years,’ observes Lash.

The Collection of Robert and Sylvia Olnick. Agnes Martin (1912–2004), Untitled #6, 1983. Signed and dated ‘A. Martin 1983’ (on the reverse). Acrylic and graphite on canvas. 72 x 72 in (182.9 x 182.9 cm). This work is offered in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 15 November at Christie’s New York

The Collection of Robert and Sylvia Olnick. Agnes Martin (1912–2004), Untitled #6, 1983. Signed and dated ‘A. Martin 1983’ (on the reverse). Acrylic and graphite on canvas. 72 x 72 in (182.9 x 182.9 cm). This work is offered in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 15 November at Christie’s New York

‘Sylvia was one of those people in life, who you loved to meet,’ adds Lash. ‘You’d like to go to a party where she was present.’ The Olnicks also brought a heartfelt way of living to the public work, and across their many years together the couple were notable charitable patrons of cultural, educational, and Jewish causes.

Sylvia was an especially ardent supporter of the American Friends of the Israel Museum, where she sat on the board of trustees, served as honorary chairman and founded the Palm Beach Friends of the Israel Museum. ‘Sylvia was dynamic. She was charismatic. She was involved culturally,’ says James Snyder, Museum Director of the Israel Museum. ‘She became one of our very engaged leaders in the United States, particularly in New York and Palm Beach.’

The Collection of Robert and Sylvia Olnick. Josef Albers (1888–1976), Homage to the Square, 1973. Signed with the artist’s monogram and dated ‘A73’ (lower right). Oil on masonite. 40 x 40 in (101.6 x 101.6 cm). This work is offered in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 15 November at Christie’s New York

The Collection of Robert and Sylvia Olnick. Josef Albers (1888–1976), Homage to the Square, 1973. Signed with the artist’s monogram and dated ‘A73’ (lower right). Oil on masonite. 40 x 40 in (101.6 x 101.6 cm). This work is offered in the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 15 November at Christie’s New York

Along with their charitable efforts, the Olnicks’ legacy is found in an exemplary collection that encompassed prints and decorative arts, but most of all, post-war and contemporary art. ‘The Olnick Collection falls into a special category of sales. It was bought with love, with passion, knowledge and good advice’, says Lash. ‘They bought with their eyes, not with their ears.’

The collection is offered across our November sales of Post-War and Contemporary Art and Prints in New York.