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Sotheby's to offer property from the Collection of Nelson and Happy Rockefeller this fall
Alberto Giacometti, “Têtê-de-Femme” Floor Lamps designed circa 1933-34, executed prior to 1972. Estimates: $200/300,000, respectively. Courtesy Sotheby's.

NEW YORK, NY.- Sotheby’s announced that we will offer property from the Collection of Nelson & Happy Rockefeller across a series of auctions beginning this November in New York.

Passionately assembled with wide-ranging interests and an unwavering eye for quality, this remarkable group is not only tied to one of America’s most storied families, but is also a significant and pioneering collection in and of itself. Spanning important design, fine art, exquisite jewels, rare porcelain, Chinese art, furniture and European decorative arts, Nelson and Happy’s collection expresses, as Nelson himself once stated, “the spirit of the time” in which they lived.

On 13 November, Sotheby’s will hold an auction dedicated to an important group of 20th Century Design, Impressionist & Modern and Contemporary Art originally housed in Nelson and Happy’s celebrated 5th Avenue apartment in New York. Titled A Modernist Vision, this exceptional group of objects is in part the result of Nelson’s commission of an original interior from Jean-Michel Frank, who, in close collaboration with his patron, filled the residence with his unique designs, as well as those of celebrated artist-designers Alberto Giacometti and Christian Bérard. Following the completion of the commission, Rockefeller, with the advice and guidance of Alfred Barr Jr., founding director of The Museum of Modern Art, collected important works by Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Henri Matisse and Fernand Léger, among others. Much of the fine art from Nelson’s collection is now housed in celebrated institutions, such as The Museum of Modern Art in New York and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Exquisite jewelry from Happy Rockefeller’s personal collection will highlight our 4 December sale of Magnificent Jewels. The group on offer is led by a suite of designs by Van Cleef & Arpels, many of which were custom-made by “special order”.

Led by 14 pieces from the celebrated Meissen “Swan” service and important Chinese export ceramics, a remarkable array of the couple’s furniture and decorative arts objects will be offered in a dedicated sale during our Americana Week auctions in January 2019. Titled A Collecting Legacy, the sale comprises Silver & Vertu, Americana, Japanese Art, Books & Manuscripts, European and Chinese Works of Art and Prints, among other categories, showcasing Nelson and Happy’s worldly vision and eclectic spirit while providing an intimate glimpse into how the couple lived with these timeless objects.

Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller (1908-79) and Margaretta Large Fitler Murphy "Happy" Rockefeller (1926-2015) were widely known for their civic and philanthropic achievements. Throughout their lives together, they surrounded themselves with a collection that was in part inherited and in part deliberate, blended together in elegant refinement and exhibiting the consummate tastes of their time.

Nelson and Happy both had rarified upbringings. Nelson in particular grew up among beautiful objects from a multitude of cultures, and inherited from his mother, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, a fervent appreciation of craftsmanship and connoisseurship. Instilled with this unwavering fascination with art in all forms, Nelson revered the creative spirit that artists brought to their work --- a sentiment that he and Happy shared throughout their lives together, no matter the artist’s anonymity or prominence.

Nelson’s distinguished political career reached its pinnacle during his service as the 49th Governor of New York from 1959-73 and as the 41st Vice President of the United States under Gerald Ford. His experience in business included top positions at a number of his family’s companies, most notably as president and chairman of Rockefeller Inc. As president of the board of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, Nelson had access to the most forward thinking curatorial minds of the day, including founding visionary director, Alfred Barr Jr., who helped Nelson develop the confidence to collect and commission artworks unerringly for the rest of his life.

Happy received her nickname early in life due to her outgoing and easy temperament. From a prominent main-line Philadelphia family, her life was infused with a generous spirit of volunteerism; starting in the war years as a driver for the Women’s Volunteer Service, later on numerous campaign trails for Nelson, as an outspoken advocate for breast cancer awareness, as President of the Board of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, and finally, as an official delegate to the United Nations.

While much of the couple’s collection was bequeathed to prestigious institutions and dispersed to various family members during Nelson’s lifetime, Happy continued to live with her favorite of the works. Taken together, this collection presents a lifestyle of spectacular refinement, emblematic of the Rockefeller style and taste of the 20th century.

Dedicated Auction 13 November 2018

Through his close relationships with friend and architect Wallace K. Harrison, the esteemed designer Jean-Michel Frank, MoMA founder Alfred Barr Jr., and avant-garde artists such as Henri Matisse and Fernand Léger, Nelson Rockefeller turned his Manhattan residence into an artistic masterpiece.

The original 5th Avenue apartment was created in the late 1930s by Rockefeller and Wallace K. Harrison. In the fall of 1938, Nelson approached Frank to commission fine art and design for his magnificent residence. The two worked together from 1938 through 1940 and designed the space to realize Rockefeller’s exceptional vision: a space that resembled ‘‘Louis XV, but modern’’. They collaborated on every detail, ranging from the material of wall brackets, to the color palette of the murals created by Fernand Léger and Henri Matisse to sit atop two fireplaces in the residence, as well as a complementary carpet design by Christian Bérard. A testament to Frank’s precision in decorating the residence, the designer rendered full-scale maquettes of the apartment to envision the spatial relationships and visual cohesion of the works in the interior.

Frank commissioned Alberto Giacometti to design a suite of gilt au mercure bronze furnishings, including a pair of regal Consoles (estimates $700,000/1,000,000, respectively), a ‘‘Grecque’’ Table Lamp (estimate $150/200,000), and a Pair of Andirons (estimate $200/300,000), among others. Frank believed strongly that the design work of Giacometti had a remarkable kinship both with antiquity and with the fine art of his contemporaries. The luxurious gilt surfaces of Giacometti’s bronze furniture and lighting fulfilled Nelson’s quest for an opulent yet modern interior.

The striking sculptural presence of the Giacometti commissions imparted extraordinary dynamism to the space, which was complemented by a Carpet designed by Christian Bérard (estimate $80/120,000). Echoing the vibrant color palettes and energetic contours of the artwork adorning the walls, the carpet’s painterly floral motifs and lively rose-pink hue brought unity to the entire ensemble.

Later in the 1960s, Nelson acquired a trio of Tête de Femme Floor Lamps (estimates $200/300,000, respectively) by Giacometti, which are also included in the November sale.

Rockefeller also filled the apartment with original fine art by many iconic names of the avant-garde. Highlights from the original interior on offer this November include: a whimsically Purist oil of female hairdressers by Massimo Campigli, regarded as the pinnacle of his oeuvre , appearing in the Venice Biennale shortly after its creation in 1936 (estimate $200/300,000); a unique and vibrantly painted ceramic in the shape of a condor by Pablo Picasso (estimate $500/700,000); and a multi-textural collage on sandpaper by Joan Miró (estimate $600/800,000).

Nelson’s diverse taste in art also encompassed works by leading Contemporary talents, such as Andy Warhol, whose portrait of the political luminary will be offered in the November sale (estimate $1/1.5 million). Executed in 1967, the present work is the last of four portraits commissioned by Nelson in the late 1960s, and fits squarely within Warhol’s oeuvre of fascination with fame and fortune. Nelson commissioned the series of canvases three years after he called for Warhol’s famed 13 Most Wanted Men mural, which adorned the New York State Pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair, to be covered with silver paint just days before the fair opened to the public.

Auction 4 December 2018

A wonderful selection of Happy Rockefeller’s jewelry will be offered within our December auction of Magnificent Jewels in New York. The collection bridges the high glamour of the 1960s and the playful exoticism of the 1970s, revealing a collector who enjoyed jewelry and appreciated the process of curating.

The centerpiece of the December offering is a stunning group of jewels by Van Cleef & Arpels --- many of which were created especially for Happy by ‘‘special order.’’ The result of this collaboration is a selection of jewels that are cohesive, visually-interesting and truly one-of-a-kind, most notably an important and rare Mughal-inspired bracelet. Set with over 200 carats of tumbled emeralds and sapphires (estimate $150/250,000), its informal arrangement of valuable gemstones epitomizes the casual elegance of Happy’s jewelry collection.

Dedicated Auction January 2019

Nelson and Happy Rockefeller’s eclectic approach to collecting and living with diverse objects is represented in this dedicated sale of furniture and decorative arts, to be offered as part of our Americana Week sales series in January. Featuring approximately 400 lots, the sale boasts exceptional Chinese Export porcelain, Chinese and European ceramics and works of art, silver, fine art, Americana, books and manuscripts, prints, and Japanese works of art.

Among the sale’s highlights is an impressive group of Chinese export ceramics, including: a rare famille-rose crab tureen (estimate $100/200,000); two armorial goose tureens and covers (estimates $150/250,000 and $120/180,000, respectively); and a pair of figures of a Dutchman and Lady (estimate $100/150,000). In addition, the collection features several important pieces from the celebrated ‘Swan’ service, made by the Royal Porcelain Manufactory at Meissen circa 173741 and commissioned by its director, Heinrich Graf von Brühl. The selection includes a pair of monteiths, six chargers of various sizes and a domed cover (estimates ranging from $8,000 to $250,000).

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