Inside The Dorothy and Richard Sherwood Collection
Masterpieces by Balthus and Diebenkorn lead a selection of works collected by a couple who were renowned leaders and patrons of some of the world’s pre-eminent cultural institutions, and whose taste spanned genres, periods and continents
Dorothy and Richard Sherwood were admired within the collecting community for their connoisseurship and for their deliberate selection of paintings, drawings and sculptures that both excited and challenged them.
Max Carter, Head of Department for Impressionist and Modern Art at Christie’s in New York, recalls the ‘exceptional range and the quality’ of the art in the Sherwoods’ exquisite home in Beverly Hills. Each room displayed a trove of treasures, from Richard Diebenkorn’s seminal Berkeley #32, acquired from Ferus Gallery in 1960, to Balthus’s 1939 masterpiece, Thérèse sur une banquette.
The Sherwoods’ exploration of art and culture lasted a lifetime, and began with Dorothy ‘Dee’ Romonek sharing her Wellesley art-history textbooks with her Beverly Hills High School beau, Richard ‘Dick’ Sherwood, who subsequently attended Yale College and then Harvard Law School.
In the 1950s, after serving in the US Air Force during the Korean War, Dick Sherwood won a Sheldon Traveling Fellowship from Harvard that transported him and his new bride around the world for a year of continuous travel and learning. From Europe to the Middle East to the Indian subcontinent and Asia, they studied new genres and began to collect paintings, drawings, prints and sculpture.
Following Dick’s Supreme Court clerkship with Justice Felix Frankfurter, the young couple returned to Beverly Hills, California, to build their life together in a community where they would contribute to the establishment of its major arts institutions. Dick joined the law firm of O’Melveny & Myers, where he would become a partner and practise for 38 years.
During the 1960s, the Sherwoods immersed themselves in the dynamic California art scene and came to know many of its leading artists — David Hockney joined them for festivities in their home and garden, as did the sculptor Robert Graham; emerging artists, museum curators, art historians and dealers were among the regular visitors to their sparkling gatherings.
During the 1960s, the Sherwoods immersed themselves in the dynamic California art scene and knew many of its leading artists
One of Balthus’s outstanding achievements, Thérèse sur une banquette (estimate: $12,000,000-18,000,000) hung in the Sherwoods’ living room for nearly 60 years, and was last seen publicly as the cover of the Cats and Girls exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2013. ‘No better Balthus has appeared at auction,’ says Carter, ‘and none is ever likely to again.’
The painting is the last of the artist’s renowned series of portraits of his muse, Thérèse Blanchard, with whom the artist became acquainted in late 1935. Thérèse, who was 14 when she posed for this painting, was a member of a large family who lived near the artist’s new studio in Paris.
Between 1936 and 1939, Thérèse featured in a series of 10 paintings that Sabine Rewald, curator of the 2013 exhibition at the Met, states ‘must be regarded as [Balthus’s] most perceptive and sensitive portrayals of a young sitter and among his finest works.’
The couple’s early acquisition of an iconic Berkeley painting by the young Richard Diebenkorn led to a decades-long friendship with the artist. Berkeley #32 (above), painted in 1955, is one of the finest examples of the expressive brushstrokes that define the artist’s most important series of paintings.
Although modern in its execution, the work exemplifies the artist’s debt to those he considered the heroes of art history, in particular Henri Matisse. Widely exhibited and cited in literature on the artist, Berkeley #32 carries an estimate of $6,000,000-8,000,000 and will be one of the highlights of the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 15 May.
New pieces often arrived at the Sherwoods’ home directly from a painter’s studio
Dick and Dorothy Sherwood became civic leaders in Los Angeles, and they devoted considerable time, energy and resources to helping the Center Theatre Group and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Dick was a long-serving President of LACMA’s board, and later Chairman, while Dee was President of the institution’s Art Museum Council.
Today, LACMA’s permanent collection includes numerous works that were brought to the museum through the Sherwoods’ leadership and patronage.
As Dick Sherwood opened his law firm’s practice in Asia, and served as a national leader of the Asia Society, the couple broadened their knowledge of art in China, Japan, Korea and farther afield. On business trips, Dick was known to squeeze in time to visit local artists, collections, galleries, museums and avant-garde theatrical performances.
The couple’s membership of the International Council of the Museum of Modern Art exposed them to global collectors and new works, and they maintained a special focus on the Indian subcontinent. Dick Sherwood spearheaded LACMA’s acquisition of a major collection of exceptional Indian art that greatly enhanced the museum’s reputation.
Over the years, the Sherwoods brilliantly assembled their private collection, which also included works by Picasso, Matisse, Henry Moore, Stuart Davis, Frank Stella and Wilhelm Hammershøi. New pieces often arrived straight from an artist’s easel or studio — further testament to their relationships with the works’ creators and their enduring fascination with the creative process.
Sign up today
Christie's Online Magazine delivers our best features, videos, and auction news to your inbox every week
The Dorothy and Richard Sherwood Collection will be offered across 20th Century Week at Christie’s in New York, with highlights featured in the Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale on 13 May, and the Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 15 May. Further pieces from the collection will be offered in sales of Picasso Ceramics, Indian and South Asian, American, and Japanese and Korean art.