The sale of Peggy and David Rockefeller’s private art collection included over 1,500 items and each and every one of them sold over three days of bidding. It far surpassed the previous auction record of US$484 million (£357 million) from the 2009 Paris sale of designer Yves Saint Laurent’s estate. The top lot alone, Pablo Picasso’s painting ‘Girl with a Flower Basket’, sold for a staggering US$115 million (£85 million) against a pre-sale estimate of US$100 million (£74 million).
Grandson of oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, David together with his wife Peggy amassed a treasure trove of fine and decorative arts over their lifetime. Among the most astonishing objects to go under the hammer last week were a 256-piece Sèvres porcelain dessert service commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte (sold for US$1.8 million or £1.3 million), a whistling swan decoy by John Haynes Williams (over US$348,000 or £256,981) and a picnic basket given to David by the King of Morocco (US$212,000 or £156,552).
In total, twenty-two world records were set at the auction including:
‘Nymphea’s en Fleur’ sold for US$84 million (£62 million), breaking the artist’s previous high of US$81 million (£60 million);
Henri Matisse’s ‘Odalisque Couchée aux Magnolias’ took in US$80.8 million (£59.7 million), smashing the artist’s US$48.8million (£36 million) record;
Gilbert Stuart’s oil portrait of George Washington scooped US$11.6 million (£8.6 million), a record for the artist;
The Sèvres service commanded the most ever paid for 19th century porcelain in the world and six times its high estimate; and
The final price tag on the Haynes Williams swan was the largest ever for such a decoy and the artist.
It was said buyers were attracted by the Rockefeller name and its connotation of American success. Christie’s also guaranteed the entire collection and did not disclose the minimum price at which the artworks would have to sell nor the buyers’ names. All proceeds from the Rockefeller sale will be donated to charity.