Rockefeller treasures break record for single-owner auction

NEW YORK — Peggy and David Rockefeller’s lavish artworks and other treasures set a new world record this week at a Christie’s auction, topping $800 million as the priciest ever single-owner collection.

That’s about twice the previous record of $484 million from a 2009 Paris sale of designer Yves Saint Laurent’s estate.

The three-day live sale of the late couple’s belongings ended Thursday with a $115 million star lot — a Picasso painting called “Fillette a la corbeille fleurie” of a naked girl holding a basket of flowers that once belonged to the writer Gertrude Stein, estimated to be worth $100 million. The runner-up, at $84 million, was a Monet canvas with his famed water lilies, “Nimpheas en fleur,” which surpassed its $50 million estimate and set a record for his art at auction against a previous high of $81 million.

Matisse’s “Odalisque Couchee aux Magnolias” — depicting a woman in a Turkish harem — sold for $80.8 million, topping the $70 million estimate and setting a new record for a Matisse, whose highest price at auction had been $48.8 million.

In what one art publication dubbed “Rockefeller Mania,” Christie’s said 100 per cent of the 893 Rockefeller lots offered live had sold, for a total of $828 million, as well as all of the more than 600 lots sold online for $4.6 million.

Diego Rivera’s 1931 “The Rivals” went for the highest price ever paid for a Latin American artwork on the block — $9.8 million against a pre-auction estimate of $5 million to $7 million.

On Friday, the sale wasn’t over till the online-only bids were in. Anyone with a few hundred dollars could go for a piece of the opulence that surrounded the late Rockefeller couple — by bidding on, say, cufflinks or jewelry. A 14-carat gold money clip once filled with Rockefeller cash sold for $75,000 against an estimate of $800 to $1,200.

The total 1,564 Rockefeller lots reflected the couple’s eclectic tastes in everything from fine furniture, porcelain and ceramics to duck decoys and blue-chip art that graced their various properties and David’s bank office. Paintings filled the walls of their Maine home, their Manhattan townhouse and a country mansion in the Pocantino Hills north of the city, complete with horses and cows.

For a whiff of that life, buyers were willing to pay prices way above the pre-auction estimates.

A rare Chinese blue and white “dragon” bowl from the Maine kitchen cabinet, valued at up to $150,000, went for $2.7 million. A bronze figure of the Buddhist deity Amitayus realized $2.5 million, against a $600,000 high estimate.

A 256-piece Sevres dessert service commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte sold for $1.8 million — more than six times its high estimate.

Six George III “Gothick” Windsor Armchairs sold for $336,500 against a top estimate of $80,000, and an English wicker picnic hamper soared to $212,500, against a high estimate of $10,000.

All prices include buyers’ premiums. Christie’s bolstered the auction by guaranteeing the whole Rockefeller collection, not disclosing the minimum price at which a work would have to sell or buyers’ names. Many came from abroad, drawn to the New York power name that dominated the city’s privileged, philanthropic society for a century.

Peggy died in 1996, and David in 2017, as the last surviving grandson of the oil baron John D. Rockefeller. The couple’s son, David Rockefeller Jr., said auction proceeds would go to charity.

The collection ended up, appropriately, in Rockefeller Center off Fifth Avenue where Christie’s is located. John D. Rockefeller Jr. had helped finance and build the grand complex in the 1930s.

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