Juicy Purchase from 'Mellon Patch'

New York -- When Sotheby’s reveals next week what art, furniture and jewelry from the estate of banking heiress Rachel “Bunny” Mellon will go on sale, the blockbuster collection will be notable for what’s missing.

Art collectors of ArtKabimett social media network will attend the preview of the Mellon auction.

Three paintings -- two by Mark Rothko valued at as much as $250 million and one by Richard Diebenkorn -- will be absent from upcoming auctions in New York because they were sold privately earlier this year, likely breaking all auction records.

The highest art auction price ever paid is $142 million -- by Las Vegas hotelier, Elaine Wynn -- for a Francis Bacon triptych sold in November 2013 at Christie's.

Auction Record

One of the Mellon-owned Rothkos was valued by auction experts for as much as $150 million; the Diebenkorn for as much as $20 million.

Rothko’s $86.9 million auction record was set when his 1961 “Orange, Red, Yellow” sold at Christie’s in 2012. The auction house the same year sold a Diebenkorn painting from his “Ocean Park” series for an artist record of $13.5 million.

Bunny Mellon, who died in March at 103, was the widow of Paul Mellon, son of Andrew W. Mellon, the Pittsburgh industrialist turned financier who was one of the richest men of his time and served as U.S. Treasury secretary from 1921 to 1932.

The three paintings were probably sold for a total of $300 million based on auction estimates.

Longtime Client

The private sale was orchestrated with the help of Franck Giraud, a dealer whose longtime client was Bunny Mellon, according to experts in postwar art.

The art dealership co-founded by Giraud in 2001 is known for high-profile clients including the royal family of Qatar -- who spend $1 billion annually on fine art acquisitions. The Qataris are considered likely recipients of the transaction.

Lovely Lots Remain

The sale of the three paintings leaves about 2,000 lots in the Mellon collection at Sotheby’s that is valued at about $100 million.

A blue diamond estimated at $10 million and two additional paintings by Rothko, jointly estimated at about $50 million, will be among the stars of a series of six auctions in November.

The proceeds will benefit the Gerard B. Lambert Foundation, a charity established by Mellon in honor of her father.

The $150-million Rothko -- one of the three sold privately -- is “No. 20 (Yellow Expanse)” from 1953. Almost 10-feet-tall and 15-feet-wide, the monumental canvas hung in the library of the Mellon’s home in Upperville, Virginia.

Classic Rothko

“Unquestionably, No 20 is the jewel in the crown,” said David Anfam, author of “Mark Rothko: The Works on Canvas," the first volume of the artist’s catalogue raisonne, an illustrated book that lists the details of 834 paintings by Rothko.

“Unlike its companion at the Guggenheim in Bilbao, it is not labored. In terms of its size there is nothing to compare it with since this is the only ‘classic’ Rothko, as opposed to the Seagram murals, of such epic dimensions.”

The second Rothko in the private sale was a 1957 8-foot-tall vertical, blue canvas “No. 14 (White and Greens in Blue),” which was previously owned by Nelson A. Rockefeller.

The Mellons owned a total of nine paintings by Rothko, according to the catalogue raisonné, having purchased them from 1970 to 1971.

Rothko committed suicide in 1970.

Museum Loans

Over the years, many of these works had been lent to the National Gallery of Art, the Washington museum founded by Andrew Mellon. Two Rothko paintings are in the museum’s permanent collection as gifts of the Mellons, according to the museum’s website.

In the early 2000s, after Paul Mellon’s death, Bunny Mellon sold three of the Rothko paintings to Francois Pinault, the French billionaire and owner of Christie’s.

Pinault in 2006 exhibited the three Rothkos he bought from the Mellons at Palazzo Grassi, his private museum in Venice, Italy. The billionaire has since parted with two of them, selling one -- 1952 “Untitled (Blue, Green and Brown)” -- to money manager Steven A. Cohen.

Featured Art Video offers a glimpse into the early collecting years of Paul Mellon. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujGeqsp3xAY&sns=em