Highly respected by policy makers and consulted by presidents, Mr. Rockefeller was deeply committed to both his charitable and business endeavors. With a discerning eye, he applied the same care to assembling his personal collection of paintings, ceramics, porcelain and ethnographic art.
The sale included objects from his panoramic Fifth Avenue apartment, which overlooked Central Park, and his Rockefeller Center office in Manhattan, as well as his country home on the family estate in Pocantico Hills, New York, and other residences in Woodstock, Vermont, and Jackson, Wyoming.
In his collection, Mr. Rockefeller combined his love for Eastern objects with fine paintings and decorations from Europe and the Americas, including works by Maurice Prendergast, Auguste Rodin, Odilon Redon and Henry Moore, among others. Property from the Estate
was included in Sotheby's sales of Impressionist & Modern Art; American Paintings, Drawings & Sculpture; Prints; and Important Americana in January 2006. Comprised of over 800 items, the proceeds of the sale, estimated to bring in excess of $12 million*, will benefit the Laurance S. Rockefeller Fund, a charitable entity.
"We are deeply honored to have the opportunity to pay tribute to Laurance S. Rockefeller, a truly great American,"said James G. Niven, Vice Chairman of Sotheby's, North and South America. "He did so many good things in his life for others in a most dignified manner, combining his talents in business with great philanthropy, and had paramount involvement in institutions such as Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the New York Zoological Society and Princeton University among many others. It was my greatest privilege to have known him."
Elaine Whitmire, Senior Vice President and Sotheby's specialist in charge of the sale, commented: "Mr. Rockefeller's many interests were reflected in his collection. A man of refined taste and an understated style, he surrounded himself with fine art and objects that were special to him, and he incorporated his varied perspectives into his life and residences."
Laurance S. Rockefeller biography
Born in New York City in 1910, Laurance Spelman Rockefeller was the fourth of six children - Abby, John D. 3rd., Nelson, Laurance, Winthrop and David - of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. Mr. Rockefeller graduated from Princeton University in 1932 with a major in Philosophy, and went on to study at Harvard Law School.
In World War II he served in the Navy, attaining the rank of Lieutenant Commander. In 1934 he married the former Mary French, his life-long partner until her death in 1997. Mr. Rockefeller was a brilliant businessman and quickly became adept at investing in new, promising enterprises in science and technology, thus becoming one of the nation's first venture capitalists.
Throughout Mr. Rockefeller's life, he grappled with how to make effective use of his family's fortune and gave careful consideration to ways to improve the world around him. Over the course of his lifetime, Mr. Rockefeller led and served on many nonprofit and philanthropic organizations. He supported many educational institutions but had especially strong ties to Princeton University. His dedication to cancer research and care was evident in his position as chairman and trustee of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation from 1960-1982 and his fifty-year involvement with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
Mr. Rockefeller is perhaps best known for his work in conservation and the environment. Yale University historian, Robin W. Winks, author of Laurance S. Rockefeller: Catalyst for Conservation, called him one of the nation's "most visionary conservationists" and said: "Laurance Rockefeller's most important role in American life would be to take environmentalism as his domain and to carry it from the obscurity of a cultish subject to the highest point in the national agenda."
His love of the outdoors began at a very early age when he traveled with his father to such places as Mount Desert Island in Maine and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, benefiting from the influence of public figures such as Horace Albright, first superintendent of Yellowstone National Park and later National Park Service Director.
Mr. Rockefeller felt strongly that the beauty and grandeur of the natural landscape helped to shape individuals and that recreation and leisure were vital components of the human experience.
Mr. Rockefeller worked tirelessly to instill these values in the land conservation projects he pioneered, providing greater accessibility to the American public. In 1939, he was introduced to public service when New York's Governor Herbert Lehman appointed him to the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, which he subsequently served as president from 1970 to 1977.
Mr. Rockefeller was active in the New York Zoological Society from 1935 - 1986, later becoming its honorary chairman. He established the American Conservation Association, led Jackson Hole Preserve, Inc. from 1940 to 1996 and was instrumental in creating the National Park Foundation. Mr. Rockefeller played a pivotal role in the development of several national parks, including the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, the Virgin Islands National Park in St. John and, with his wife Mary, Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park in Vermont.
Combining his interest in the environment and outdoor recreation with his philosophy that natural beauty restores the human spirit, Mr. Rockefeller pioneered the eco-tourism movement by creating environmentally-sensitive resorts in locations such as the Caribbean, Hawaii and Vermont.
Mr. Rockefeller was consulted by virtually every American president during his adult life on matters of conservation and outdoor recreation, and he served as advisor to Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford. His contributions were acknowledged best in 1991 when he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the "highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievement and contribution", by George H. W. Bush, who said, "Fewer than a hundred times in our nation's history has the Congress ordered a unique gold medal struck to honor one of our citizens ... Laurance Rockefeller as everyone knows, including me, shies away from the limelight.
Though his modesty ennobles him, I regret that young Americans don't yet know as much as they should about him. As our young people learn more about Laurance Rockefeller's life and example, they will feel the excitement of seeing a hidden national treasure come to light."
European Ceramics and Chinese Export Porcelain
Highlighting the single-owner sale is a remarkable and encyclopedic collection of Meissen bird figures that filled Mr. Rockefeller's Fifth Avenue apartment. The last time such an exceptional group of Meissen birds came to the market was when Sotheby's sold the collection of Mr. Rockefeller's brother, Nelson Rockefeller, in 1980. The present offering, which underscores an interest and appreciation in ornithology, will include pairs of Bantam Cocks, circa 1732 (est. $80/120,000), Bitterns, circa 1753 (est. $40/60,000), Jays, circa 1745 (est. $30/50,000), Sea Swallows, circa 1756 (est. $30/50,000), Rollers, circa 1740 (est. $30/40,000), Doves, circa 1732-35 (est. $20/40,000), Herring Gulls, 1753 (est. $20/30,000), Kingfishers, circa 1740 (est. $20/30,000), Green Woodpeckers, circa 1740 (est. $20/30,000) and Sparrow Hawks, circa 1734-40 (est. $10/20,000). All of these examples were modeled by Johann Joachim Kaendler, the chief modeler of the Meissen factory in the 1730s-70s. A number of the pieces featured are mounted in ormolu, among them a pair of Meissen figures of Swans, circa 1750-70 (est. $60/90,000), a Cock and Hen, circa 1742-50 (est. $20/40,000), South American Parrots, circa 1741-45 (est. $15/25,000) and an assembled pair of Cockatoos, circa 1737-40 (est. $60/80,000). A number of dinner services round out the offering, highlighted by an Important Sèvres Porcelain 'Beau Bleu' Armorial and Ornithological Dinner Service, comprised of 116 pieces and dated 1792, decorated with brightly colored birds (est. $300/500,000).
Asian Works of Art
An avid collector of Asian works of Art, Mr. Rockefeller supported The Metropolitan Museum of Art for over five decades and for 13 years served as a member of the Asian art department's visiting committee. His personal collection at his Fifth Avenue apartment and at Kent House include a pair of Famille Noire Porcelain Baluster-Shaped Vases, Kangxi period, AD 1662-1722, decorated with phoenixes and birds (est. $80/100,000) and a tall Famille Verte Porcelain Club-Shaped Vase, Kangxi period, AD 1662-1722 (est. $60/90,000).
American Indian Art
Inspired by the natural landscape of the American West and the culture of Indian tribes, Mr. Rockefeller's appreciation for American Indian Art likely began as a boy during his visits with his father to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. A number of Navajo Chief's blankets, long revered as the icons of American Indian Art, come from his ranch in Wyoming, as well as his Rockefeller Center office. Among these is a Classic Navajo Chief's Wearing Blanket, circa 1865-1870, woven in a "Second Phase" pattern in handspun and raveled wool in red, indigo-blue, ivory and dark brown (est. $60/80,000). A number of serapes bearing bold, geometric designs will be included in the sale, among them a Late Classic Navajo 'Moki' Serape, circa 1875-80, with hues of indigo-blue, green, red and brown (est. $25/35,000).
Impressionist & Modern Art
Among the works from Mr. Rockefeller's collection to be offered in the November 2005 Impressionist and Modern evening sale is one of the most recognizable sculptures in Western Art, Auguste Rodin's The Thinker. The figure of The Thinker, originally conceived by Rodin as the artist Dante Alighieri contemplating his Inferno, sat atop the monumental work "The Gates of Hell," which is comprised of 200 individual figures. Measuring 28 inches in height, the iconic bronze is estimated to sell for $800,000/1.2 million. Aristide Maillol's Pomone, the artist's personification of fertility, will also be offered. Conceived in 1908, the figure was so well received by critics that it bolstered the artist's reputation among the avant garde and ultimately launched his international career. It is estimated to bring $800,000/1 million. Floral still-lifes were Odilon Redon's most popular motifs at the turn of the century. While the artist completed many of these still-lifes in pastel, the medium of oil used in Vase de fleurs sur une nappe rouge from Mr. Rockefeller's collection enhances the luminousness of his colors (est. $600/800,000). The theme of maternity featured prominently in Henry Moore's sculpture, particularly in the 1950s after the birth of his daughter. But unlike other representations of mothers holding or cradling their children, his Mother and Child Against an Open Wall, 1956-57, depicts the figures apart, sitting in front of a perforated wall. The sculpture exemplifies the artist's concerns with the interplay of solids and voids and spatial relationships among all of his forms (est. $250/350,000).
American Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture
The Rockefeller collection will also offer a lovely selection of American Paintings, highlighted by a double-sided, three-panel screen by Charles Prendergast. Having originally made his reputation as a frame and furniture maker in an Arts and Crafts style, Charles Prendergast turned his attention to painting after his brother's death in 1924. Executed circa 1928-1932 and estimated to sell for $600/800,000, the present work, entitled Figures in a Landscape and Figures with Animals, Birds and Trees, is one of only three known three-panel screens by the artist. Each incised panel of gold leaf and tempera measures 68 by 27 inches and is signed by the artist.
The collection also includes two works by Charles' brother, Maurice Prendergast. Upon returning to Boston in 1895 after several years in Paris and with Impressionism as his influence, Maurice Prendergast began to paint beautiful scenes of parks, beaches and the urban crowds of Boston and New York. Central Park, a watercolor and pencil on paper painted circa 1903-04 is a lovely example depicting New York urban life which is estimated to sell for $200/300,000. Also by Maurice Prendergast is a watercolor entitled The Paris Omnibus, executed circa 1907 and estimated to sell for $100/150,000.
Other works in the Rockefeller collection include Thomas Hart Benton's Hayfield (est. $125/175,000), Frederick Rondel's Statue of Liberty Celebration (est. $80/120,000), Alfred Jacob Miller's Crow Indian on the Lookout (est. $70/90,000), Anna Mary Robertson (Grandma) Moses' More Fun (est. $40/60,000) and James Tyler's The American and the Coquette at Storm King on the Hudson (est. $80/120,000).
Other Property from the Estate of Laurance S. Rockefeller
Included in the October 28th-29th sale of Prints are a number of works, highlighted by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's Partie de Campagne (est. $60/80,000) and The Jockey (est. $40/60,000), both color lithographs. The January 2006 sale of Important Americana will feature furniture, decorations and also a number of hand-colored engravings after John James Audubon, including American Flamingo (est. $80/120,000) and Brown Pelican (est. $40/50,000).