The Collection of Carroll Petrie
Throughout the latter half of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, the collector and philanthropist Carroll Petrie stood as a paragon of international style and taste. From the palmetto-shaded lanes of South Carolina to the couturiers of Paris and the drawing rooms of Fifth Avenue, Mrs. Petrie forever exuded the gentility and refinement of a bygone era. Educated, elegant, and exceedingly generous, her legacy rests on a lifelong dedication to beauty, connoisseurship, and helping others.
Raised amongst the white-columned residences of Greenville, South Carolina, Carroll McDaniel Petrie cultivated a passion for fine art and culture that would last her entire life. After studying at Converse College—now the site of the Petrie School of Music—the striking young woman moved to New York, where she became one of John Robert Powers’s storied ‘Power Girls,’ joining fashion models such as Lauren Bacall and Ava Gardner. Mrs. Petrie’s first marriage, to the Marquis de Portago, brought her to Paris, where she honed her keen eye for fine art and antiques. Alongside friends and confidantes such as the Duchess of Windsor and Eva Perón, Mrs. Petrie became enamored with the extraordinary creations of Christian Dior: “I saw his collection—I really thought I’d died and gone to heaven,” Mrs. Petrie laughed in later years. “I couldn’t believe what he had done with fabric.” The collector’s discovery heralded what would become a lifetime’s devotion to haute couture. Blending Southern grace with a decidedly Continental flair, Carroll Petrie became a true icon of style.
Following the death of her first husband in 1957, Carroll Petrie lived amongst the international bon ton in Paris, Hong Kong, and New York. Embracing the very best in art, architecture, music, and culture, she built a remarkable personal assemblage of fine and decorative art, couture, and jewels. In 1978, the collector was introduced to the American businessman Milton Petrie, whom she would marry the following year. The couple embarked on a shared journey in collecting and philanthropy, and were celebrated as two of New York’s most generous and unwavering benefactors. Through both private giving and significant public contributions to institutions such as Beth Israel Hospital, New York Presbyterian Hospital, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the Parrish Art Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art—home to the light-filled Carroll and Milton Petrie European Sculpture Court—the Petries bettered the world in innumerable ways. When Mr. Petrie died in 1994, his wife continued the tradition of giving that had become a cornerstone of their lives: for the next two decades, she oversaw the prodigious efforts of the Carroll and Milton Petrie Foundation. “I hope to do the best I can,” the collector said, “in the way that I think Milton would have wanted me to.”
Nowhere was Carroll Petrie’s inherent taste more evident than at her sophisticated residence at 834 Fifth Avenue. Finely appointed with Georgian furniture and French decorative arts, and colored in rich shades of pink and pastels, it epitomized the collector’s refined style and Old World charm. Amongst vases of fragrant blossoms and Chinese export porcelain hung pictures by artists as diverse as George Romney and Andy Warhol; in marble, silk, and wood, Mrs. Petrie created a world that charmed the eye and delighted the senses. The residence was a meeting place for the luminaries of art, literature, business, and politics, with Mrs. Petrie serving as the consummate hostess and woman of ideas. Even into her later years, the collector remained a cherished society figure in Manhattan, Southampton, and beyond. Immaculately dressed in Valentino, Chanel, and her favored Dior, Mrs. Petrie possessed an enduring charm and keen wit that endeared her to all.
In her innate elegance and tremendous generosity, Carroll Petrie remains an inspiration to future generations of patrons, tastemakers, and philanthropists—a lasting icon in style and spirit.