Art and antiques by Dr. Lori
Is your collection like the Rockefellers?
Recently, one of the most important and diverse fine art and antiques collections amassed from all parts of the world went up for sale on the auction block at Christie’s in New York. The collection belonged to David and Peggy Rockefeller. David Rockefeller died at 101 and was Head of Chase Manhattan bank, a philanthropist and grandson of John D. Rockefeller.
What struck me most about the Rockefeller collection and their well-advertised art and antiques auction had very little to do with the exceptional beauty, artistry or value of any of the nearly 2,000 items. Certainly, there were fine paintings by Cezanne, Seurat and Gris to name only a few. On the auction block was a highly sought-after Pablo Picasso painting of a girl holding a basket of flowers once owned by Gertrude Stein, various pieces of antique English furniture and a Sevres porcelain service commissioned by Napoleon himself. Yet, the variety of objects in this highly publicized once in a lifetime auction was not what stuck with me when I read — in newspapers, trade publications, magazines and online — all about the Rockefellers’ collection and their pre-arranged donations to museums, foundations and universities. In fact, what I remember about the reports of the Rockefeller auction was the comment that the couple’s youngest child, Eileen Rockefeller Growald, made when an interviewer asked her if she would attend the auction of her parents’ belongings. Her answer was no. She explained, “It feels like selling pieces of my parents and I just can’t watch.”
Right there is why you, your children and your grandchildren are probably a lot more like the Rockefellers than you might think. While most of us don’t have the collections of note or the resources to amass such a collection over generations that the Rockefellers had, most of us do have objects that mean something special to our friends and family. Eileen Rockefeller Growald’s comment moved me because so many people tell me that their children don’t want their stuff, that their family wouldn’t care about this collectible or that piece of furniture. I know that isn’t true. I think it is often a mechanism for people to take the easy road. The road far away from being hurt if a daughter rejects a family china dinnerware set from Austria where your grandmother was born or if a son doesn’t covet the violin that he took lessons on which once belonged to his great-grandfather from Italy. It is easier to contend that a family member doesn’t want a work of art, antique or collectible instead of putting in the time, effort and emotional resources to deal with it as it moves onto another person’s collection.
I was taken aback as one brief statement from Mrs. Rockefeller-Growald, a member of one of the most prestigious collecting families in America and possibly of the 20th Century, made the case for how objects impact loved ones and speak volumes about what is important to a family. She connected her parents’ objects with what was important to her parents — ancestry, global point of view, history, beauty, craftsmanship, diversity, etc.
Everyone, no matter their social status, connect through objects. I’m biased because I work with objects or artifacts every day. I research how objects were made, what an object says about a particular time period or historical era, how an object relates to or identifies a certain culture, what emotions an object stirs with owners or heirs, how an object can recall memories the way my Mother’s canister set used to help her remember a recipe during her struggles with dementia and the like.
Perhaps your collection is not like the Rockefellers in size, scope or value. Maybe you don’t have a Picasso that your children are liquidating to give the multi-million-dollar proceeds from its sale to a major museum or important philanthropic foundation, but there are works of art, antiques, even small collectible objects or souvenirs from your travels in your home that your children and grandchildren associate with you and your values. Perhaps many of them couldn’t watch your items go by the wayside either. So, before you downsize, liquidate or dispose of your heirlooms, have a chat with your kids and your grandkids, think about your friends and others who would like a memento. Of course, value is important but their feelings are more important. When it comes to your children’s attitude about your antiques, you may be just like the Rockefellers.
Ph.D. antiques appraiser, author, and award-winning TV personality, Dr. Lori presents appraisal events to audiences worldwide.
Dr. Lori is the expert appraiser on Discovery channel’s “Auction Kings.” Visit www.drloriv.com, www.facebook.com/DoctorLori or call 888-431-1010.