Gathered over a lifetime and inherited from previous generations, the collection reflects the Rockefeller family’s deep, life-long passion for Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Modern works of art, writes Uma Nair.
"Eventually all these objects which have brought so much pleasure to Peggy and me will go out into the world and will again be available to other caretakers who, hopefully, will derive the same satisfaction and joy from them as we have over these past several decades."
– David Rockefeller
Christie's announced the first highlights from the collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller to be unveiled in Hong Kong on November 24, which marked the start of a global tour of collection highlights presented by private aviation company VistaJet. The collection will be offered for sale at Christie's Rockefeller Center Galleries in New York in the Spring of 2018.
The collection sale will be the most significant philanthropic auction ever presented, with all the Estate sale proceeds destined to benefit selected charities. The first highlights include masterpieces of Impressionist and Modern Art, including a Rose Period Picasso selected by Peggy and David Rockefeller from Gertrude Stein's collection (estimate in the region of $70 million), Claude Monet's Nymphéas en fleur, painted circa 1914-1917 (estimate in the region of $35 million), and a sumptuous 1923 reclining nude by Matisse that is poised to reset the artist's record high price at auction (estimate in the region of $50 million).
Paul Tucker has written about Monet's Nympheas studies, "They stand as eloquent witness to an aging artist's irrepressible urge to express his feelings in front of nature and also attest to his persistent desire to reinvent the look of landscape art and to leave a legacy of significance" (Monet in the Twentieth Century, exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1998, p. 14).
Gauguin's La Vague 1888 is a stunning work that shows the rocks of the Portguerrec creek emerging from the water like two giant heads. We also see the white ruff that Gauguin perceived in sea foam of course as envisioned by Hokusai's prints.
Cubist master Juan Gris's La Table de musician tells us about where Picasso got his cubist leanings from. (The Musician's Table) reflects Juan Gris' love of the world of music, shown here through the inclusion of the instrument as a transparent object along with the music sheet as well as a bottle of wine and glass. The different elements that are created as an ensemble symbolise or allude to the different faculties for perceiving impressions form the world outside and present corollaries. However, the musical instruments in Juan Gris' works (so central to Cubism but also indicative of the painter's penchant for music and dancing) seem to be closer to those in paintings specifically focusing on these sound-producing implements, such as the allegories of the arts.
Elegiac and elusive is Edouard Manet's Lilas et Roses. This is one of the "Last Sixteen Flowers of Manet." Aside from the Sunflowers by Van Gogh, Manet's are among the most famous flower series. He painted approximately twenty-two bouquets in all, but it was the sixteen he painted during the last months of his life when he was dying that are the most well-known. They were all flowers brought to him by concerned friends and admirers. Manet was touched and was obviously in a hurry to paint each one. It has been said that there is a sensuality in the way Manet handled wet paint quickly that comes through in these final bouquets better than in anything he had previously painted.
Amongst Impressionist masterpieces in the Rockefeller collection is Claude Monet's Saint Lazare – one amongst 12 works he had created of twelve paintings of the Saint-Lazare train station in Paris, a subject favoured by many impressionist painters. While completing the series, Monet relocated from the town of Argenteuil to an apartment near the station in Paris. He worked on all the paintings at the same time, and sometimes he leaned the stretched canvases against each other while the paint was still wet. This caused the cork spacers on the backs of the stretchers to be pressed into the adjacent paintings, creating circular indentations in the surface that are visible along the top edge of this work. Monet's thick build-up of pigments here is a virtuosic example of his approach to painting during this period, when he juxtaposed multitudinous hues in mounds of impasto that would blend into a coherent whole only when viewed from a distance. This technique reportedly led Cézanne to declare, "Monet is only an eye, but my God what an eye."
Two Pointillist Masters
Georges Seurat conceived the theory and practice of Neo-Impressionism as a scientific, rational, and technical corrective to the Impressionist's instinctive and spontaneous treatment of nature.
No landscape can be as soothing and tranquil to the eye as the pointillist master Seurat's La Rade de Grandcamp. Seurat aimed to place the painting on a scientific basis in its treatment of light and colour and, using a style known as Divisionism, juxtaposed small brushstrokes of complementary colours to create a luminous effect in his works. He painted the border on the canvas, but the frame is much later in date. It was his discovery that contrasting, or complementary, colours can optically mix to create even more vivid scenes than by mixing paint alone. Seurat abandoned the Impressionistic idea of painting a "fleeting moment," and instead rendered what he regarded as the essential and unchanging in life. Seurat's most recognized and praised work is "A Sunday Afternoon on La Grand Jatte" – a busy scene of well-to-do Parisians enjoying a relaxing afternoon on the Seine river. "The painter's world is flat and depends on pigments; the scientist's is three-dimensional and depends on light. The only way to reconcile the two is through the artificial conventions of art" (in Georges Seurat, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1991)
Signac Portrieux La Comtesse
History has generally assigned to Signac the role of having been Seurat's foremost disciple and apostle; he was in reality, as we now understand, equally a leader and a driving force in the Neo-Impressionist movement. If Seurat had brought the Word of Neo-Impressionism into the world, then Signac, like his sainted early Christian namesake, was Paul to this new artistic vision of the world.
Paul Signac was one of the pioneers of pointillism – a style of strategically painting or drawing hundreds of small dots onto a canvas. He had abandoned the short brushwork style that was typical for Impressionist painters, and instead created works covered in pure-coloured dots. The intention of pointillism was for the dots to blend, not on the canvas, but through the eyes of the viewer. Most of his paintings were of the French coast – Signac spent a large amount of his time sailing around the European coast, painting his favourite landscape. The warm colours, like the rocks orange-tinted ochre, and the purple of the foreground shadows suggest a sunset, with its exaltation of the Mediterranean landscape.
Gathered over a lifetime and inherited from previous generations, the Collection reflects the Rockefeller family's deep, life-long passion for Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Modern works of art, American paintings, English and European furniture, Asian works of art, European ceramics and Chinese export porcelain, silver, and American decorative arts and furniture, among other categories.
The Hong Kong exhibition featured significant works by Claude Monet, Georges Seurat, Juan Gris, Paul Signac, Edouard Manet, Paul Gauguin, Jean Baptiste Camille Corot, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Edward Hopper, among others.