Whitehead Collection Goes to Christie's

NEW YORK CITY -- John Whitehead, the late Wall Street banker who led Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s expansion overseas, was also an avid art collector who owned works by Claude Monet and Amedeo Modigliani.

Christie’s said Monday that 90 works from Whitehead’s collection are expected to fetch more than $40 million at sales on May 4-5. Christie’s and Sotheby’s are starting to announce their top consignments for the semi-annual auctions of modern, Impressionist, postwar and contemporary art in New York.

Art collectors of Art Kabinett social media network are excited to see the offerings of this upcoming sale.

The autumn 2014 round of these seasonal sales tallied a record $2.3 billion as growing ranks of wealthy individuals turn to art for asset diversification and as a status symbol.

Whitehead, who died in February at 92, led Goldman Sachs’s first forays abroad in the 1970s and 1980s. He spent 37 years at Goldman Sachs, eight of them as co-head.

He left in 1984 to become deputy secretary of state under President Ronald Reagan and later served as chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. He also oversaw the redevelopment of Lower Manhattan after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Whitehead started collecting works on paper and later focused on French Impressionists and Post-Impressionists paintings and sculptures, according to Christie’s. While in Washington, he decorated his State Department office with Impressionist canvases.

Carried Paintings

“I remember having to carry the paintings to Washington and hanging them there,” said Achim Moeller, founder of Moeller Fine Art, who helped Whitehead assemble the collection over 33 years, starting in 1981.

“It was a good journey through art,” Moeller said in a telephone interview. “I bought everything for him, about 100 works of art. I bought at auction, from private collectors, from dealers. As long as the work was fresh to the market, in good condition and a good example of the artist’s work -- and the price was right.”

Whitehead gave two major paintings to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

The top lot of the collection at Christie’s is Modigliani’s 1916 portrait of a young woman, “Beatrice Hastings.” The work is estimated at $7 million to $10 million.

Monet’s Landscape

Monet’s morning landscape painted in Giverny in 1888 could bring $6 million to $8 million. Moeller said he bought it at auction. The work was sold at Sotheby’s in 1985 for $418,000, according to New York-based Artnet.

“When I got home from the auction, I received a call from a European collector offering to buy it for 10 percent more,” Moeller said.
Berthe Morisot’s 1884 “Dans le Veranda,” depicting a red-haired girl on a terrace, is valued at $3 million to $4 million.

Pierre Bonnard’s 1915 “Sous l’Arbre” is estimated at $1 million to $1.5 million.

This week, Christie’s is showing the highlights of Whitehead’s collection in Hong Kong, the largest market for Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art after the U.S.

Auctions in the category reached 1.5 billion euros ($1.6 billion) in 2014, down from the peak of 1.7 billion euros in 2011, according to the annual art market report published March 11 by the European Fine Art Foundation.

Auction houses have held other successful sales of single owner collections in the past year. American socialite Rachel “Bunny” Lambert Mellon’s estate, which offered collectibles from a $39.9 million Mark Rothko painting to a rabbit-shaped doorstop for more than $5,000, fetched $218.1 million at Sotheby’s in New York in November.

Christie’s sold the collection of the late billionaire philanthropist Edgar M. Bronfman Sr., which included paintings by Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. Bronfman’s Impressionist and modern art was estimated at about $25 million and tallied $27.2 million, Christie’s said.