Living Like A Rockefeller

David Rockefeller's three-day estate sale in May 2018 brought in $833 million for charity, setting an auction record for a private collection. As part of Rockefeller's very detailed estate plan, Christie's auctioned off more than 1,500 items, including paintings by Picasso, Matisse, and Monet; a porcelain dessert service once owned by Napoleon; and sculptures of Buddhist deities.

To help their clients better understand the Rockefeller sale results and what it means for art collectors, UBS Wealth Management Americas created a 4-part video based on a interview they did with me. Click here to watch the videos. 

 

PART 1: THE IMPACT OF THE ROCKEFELLER NAME ON SALE PRICES (2:06 minutes)

“Collecting art is a fun, exciting thing to do and is a great way to meet new people and have new experiences. But passion sometimes blinds people to the ugly realities of the art marketplace.”

"People were willing to pay spectacular prices for these works," said Woodham. "I think the fact that they'd been off the market, that they had what's called the provenance of David Rockefeller, was extremely important in the prices that were—that were achieved."

"If you took many of those objects in the sale and put them into another evening sale six months or a year from now without the David Rockefeller name attached to them, they probably would have gone for about a third less," he said. "Put another way, people were willing to pay almost a third more than fair market value to be able to get something that came from the David and Peggy Rockefeller collection. So people's emotional attachment to not only the object, but the emotional attachment to who the previous owner was—and the bragging rights associated with that—helped drive prices up."

 

PART 2: THE SALE OF AN EARLY PICASSO PAINTING (1:02 minutes)

"When people think of Picasso, they often tend to think of cubism. They tend to think of abstract, wild images. Before his cubist phase, there are two periods of his career, the rose period and the blue period which collectors covet. He didn't make that many of these paintings. Most of them are in museums. David Rockefeller had one—of a woman, full-length, nude, with a basket of flowers that he hung in his living room—that he bought in 1968."

 

PART 3: A MATISSE PAINTING COVETED BY COLLECTORS (1:17 minutes)

“There was a beautiful painting by Matisse that was included in the David Rockefeller sale," said Woodham. "Most people are familiar with Matisse. He was a very, very, very prolific artist. So there are lots of paintings, lots of drawings. The ones that are colorful, that have great pattern, beautiful line that collectors love, most of them are in museums. The one that was included in the David Rockefeller sale had everything you could possibly want in a colorful, beautiful nude painting that sold for just shy of $81 million."

 

PART 4: NAPOLEON'S PORCELAIN (2:13 minutes)

In the final video, I speak about how David Rockefeller's mother and Napoleon had a shared love of porcelain, a fateful trip to Elba, and who else may have eaten off the porcelain dessert service that sold for $1.8 million.


Doug Woodham is the Managing Partner of Art Fiduciary Advisors, a NY-based advisory practice focused on art-related legacy planning and advising collectors, artists, and institutions on the sale of art. Earlier in his career, Doug was President of Christie’s for the Americas and a Partner with McKinsey & Company. He is also the author of the best-selling book Art Collecting Today: Market Insights for Everyone Passionate About Art (2017).