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Rockefeller’s American art collection raises $106.8m


Christie’s sale of David and Peggy Rockefeller’s American art collection raised an extraordinary $106.8m last night.

That brings the total for the sale of the couple’s unparalleled estate sale to $765.3m, with more auctions to follow today and tomorrow.

Abstract expressionist godfather Willem de Kooning’s Untitled XIX (1982) took the top spot in the well attended sale, pulling in $14.2m after 10 minutes of heavy bidding. It was originally valued at $8m.

Willem de Kooning's style changed dramatically in his later years (Image: Christie's)

The work dates to De Kooning’s late period (he was almost 80 when he painted it). There’s a huge contrast between these later paintings, which make use of white space and gently harmonising colours, and the intensely claustrophobic work he produced during his early career.

Other highlights included Gilbert Stuart’s George Washington (Vaughan type), painted in Philadelphia in 1795.

The work set a new $11.5m record for Stuart at auction, soaring past its $1.2m valuation.

The Vaughan type portraits are named for their original owner, John Vaughan (Image: Christie's)

This is one of 14 versions Stuart painted of the original (which he destroyed), of which only four are in private collections. This is one of 19 portraits Rhode Island born Stuart painted of Washington, although he also painted a large number of copies.

The most famous work from the series is the unfinished Athenaeum portrait. This was used as the basis for Washington’s portrait on the $1 bill.

While the bulk of the sale was made up of work by US artists, the Americas were also well represented.

Mexican painter Diego Riviera’s The Rivals sold for an artist record of $9.7m against its $7m estate. That sum also represents the highest price paid for a Latin American artist at auction.

David Rockefeller's mother Abby commissioned The Rivals from Diego Riviera (Image: Christie's)

The piece was actually commissioned by David’s mother, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, in 1931. David remembered Diego delivering the work to the Rockefeller family home in Manhattan: “He was a very imposing and charismatic figure: tall and weighing three hundred pounds”.

The work is regarded as Riviera’s masterpiece. It has hung in the living room at David and Peggy Rockefeller’s home at Ringing Point, Maine since 1940, when Abby gifted it to them as a wedding present.

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