Caral Gimbel Lebworth's two great passions were equestrianism and the arts, both of which came to early fruition during her teenaged years. For it was at that time that she began to ride competitively, an activity that she would continue for well over a decade and which would involve international competition at Madison Square Garden. And it was also at that time, around 1930, that she dropped out of school in order to move to Paris and study art. Caral gave up the brush and easel within a relatively short time, but her love of art was kindled. During her time in Paris, she had the chance to meet some of the great artists of the period including Pablo Picasso, fuelling a passion for art that would remain one of her defining character traits for the rest of her life and to which her collection is only a small part of this testimony.
Caral was the daughter of Bernard and Alva Gimbel of "Gimbels" department store fame. Her father was Chairman of the Board of Gimbel Brothers, Inc. Under his stewardship, Gimbel Brothers, Inc. was the largest department store company in the world, comprising both Gimbels and Saks & Co. While Gimbels has not existed since 1986 as a department store, its fame is reflected in the fact that its rivalry with Macy's, immortalised in the movie Miracle on 34th Street, entered common parlance with the phrase, "Would Macy's tell Gimbels?" (In a tribute to that older film, Gimbels was recently resuscitated fictitiously as the setting for the 2003 comedy Elf.) In Philadelphia, the company founded the longest-running Thanksgiving Parade in the United States, which continues albeit under different sponsorship, and was mentioned time and again in the popular series I Love Lucy. Looking at Caral Gimbel Lebworth's collection, it seems appropriate that Gimbels was also the site for the disposal of the art and antiques of legendary media mogul William Randolph Hearst.
Caral was married first to Edward Lasker. In 1946, she married baseball star and Hall-of-Famer Hank Greenberg, with whom she had three children. They spent ten years in Cleveland, where Hank was part owner and General Manager of the Cleveland Indians. Following their divorce in 1959, Caral returned to New York, where she married Joseph Lebworth; Caral and Joe spent the next 46 years together where they enjoyed a life which was noted for their long list of friends and their unwavering support of the arts. Joe passed away in May 2008, four months before Caral's death.
During her time in New York, Caral's patronage and philanthropy resulted in a string of eminent friends and guests from the art world from William Rubin to Andy Warhol, Leo Castelli to Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Her purchase of two paintings by Diego Rivera resulted in her visiting the artist's studio and having her portrait painted by him. She acquired works by a range of artists that included, but was far from limited to, Calder, Corot and Courbet, Matta, Mir and Matisse. Meanwhile, when she bought a home at Castellaras in the South of France in 1967, she began friendships with many of the artists who had homes in the vicinity, from Arman and Pierre Lesieur to Louis LeBroquy and his wife Anne Madden. However, her friendships were not limited to artists, curators and dealers: she also attended Elizabeth Taylor's 1957 wedding to Michael Todd in Acapulco.
The quality of the works in Caral Gimbel Lebworth's collection are a tribute to both her passion for and knowledge of art. Perhaps it was her own love of painting that led her to acquire Dubuffet's impasto-rich, playful Corps de dame, rose incarnate, executed in 1950. Likewise, there is a sense of play, of elegance and of innovation in Alexander Calder's Seven Black on Black, with the artist introducing movement to the formerly static arts, an act of revolution that is at the same time poetic and hypnotic.
As well as acting as a patron to several artists during her lifetime, Caral also was an active board member for Independent Curators International and Plays for Living, while also supporting institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum, the Guggenheim, the Whitney and the Museum of Modern Art, for which she was a long-standing member of the International Council.