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Items from Philanthropist and Society Figure Brooke Astor to be Auctioned

by WorthPoint Staff (03/14/12).

Property from the Estate of Brooke Astor will be auction on Sept. 24-25 at Sotheby’s. (Photo courtesy The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby’s)

NEW YORK – Property from the Estate of beloved philanthropist and legendary New York society figure Brooke Astor—including fine and decorative art from her Park Avenue apartment and her Westchester County estate and a selection of jewelry from her personal collection—will be auction on Sept. 24-25 at Sotheby’s. The approximately 800 items in the sale will be on exhibition at the auction house’ York Avenue galleries beginning 17 September.

In keeping with her unwavering commitment to numerous New York institutions and causes, Mrs. Astor selected a number of charitable organizations to benefit from her estate, including The New York Public Library, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Pierpont Morgan Library, The Animal Medical Center of New York and New York City Schools, in addition to various charities in Maine.

“Brooke Astor’s enthusiasm for every detail pertaining to the furnishing and decorating of her rooms is charmingly effective,” said Albert Hadley, famed decorator who designed rooms for both Holly Hill—her Westchester County estate—and the Astors’ Park Avenue apartment. “No one can equal her gaiety of spirit, her joyous laughter, and her keen wit.”

As Mrs. Astor surrounded herself with objects she loved, each of the works on offer this September reflects her life and passions: from Chinese lacquer furniture, clocks, mirror paintings and export porcelain that recall her early years in Asia while her father was stationed abroad, to the drawings and paintings of dogs—many depicting her own—that demonstrate her love for her animals, to the lion brooch by Van Cleef & Arpels that evokes the iconography of The New York Public Library, an institution she championed for decades. The rooms and contents of both residences display a distinctive mix of comfort and refinement, and reveal a woman of elegance and grace who would come to embody New York society during her lifetime.

A view of the famed library at Mrs. Astor’s Manhattan duplex apartment, know as one of the most photographed rooms in the history of American interior design.

A view of the drawing room in Mrs. Astor’s New York City apartment, including a selection of Old Master drawings and Chinese export porcelain.

Mrs. Astor’s duplex apartment in the Rosario Candelade-signed building at Park Avenue and 73rd street is one of New York City’s most famous residences, and housed the iconic library that is one of the most photographed rooms in the history of American interior design. Mrs. Astor hosted American presidents, foreign dignitaries and influential cultural figures and members of society in the celebrated rooms, which she decorated to serve as an inviting space for raising funds for her numerous charitable causes.

The furniture and decorative arts from the residence represent a mix of styles and periods, evidence of the worldly eye of their collector. The furniture on offer in the September auction features English and French pieces from both the 18th and early 19th centuries, as well as Chinese lacquer furniture primarily dating to the Qing dynasty. Fine art from the apartment is highlighted by strong groups of both Old Master drawings—including works by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Canaletto and Nicolas Lancret—and Chinese export reverse-painted glass pieces.

The library at Holly Hill, Astor’s Westchester County estate.

A view through the drawing room into the library at Holly Hill.

Mrs. Astor’s stone manor set on more than 60 acres in Westchester County was designed in 1927 by architect Paul William Delano. With the same approach she took to her New York City duplex, she filled Holly Hill with furniture, decorations and personal effects that very much reflected her tastes and interests. For example, Mrs. Astor’s love for her gardens at the estate carries through to the many of the floral-themed pieces on offer.

In keeping with the natural setting, Mrs. Astor filled multiple walls with pictures of dogs, which will form a significant selection in the September auction. Additional highlights of the fine art from the Westchester estate include Henri Fantin-Latour’s The Red Rose and The White Rose (presale estimate of $80,000-$120,000 each), and Maurice Prendergast’s Sitting on the Rocks (est. $300,000-$400,000).

“It’s like backing up to the Esso and getting refueled,” Astor said about Holly Hill.

Assembled primarily in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, Mrs. Astor’s personal collection of jewelry evokes her role as a renowned New York social figure, with pieces appropriate for every occasion both day and night. In addition to examples by each of the best designers of the 20th century—including Van Cleef & Arpels, Verdura, Cartier, Buccellati, David Webb, Jean Schlumberger for Tiffany & Co., and Bulgari—the September auction will also feature a strong group of stones. Highlights will include an emerald and diamond ring set with a Colombian emerald weighing 22.84 carats (est. $100, 000-$150,000), an emerald and diamond necklace, circa 1965 (est. $250,000-$350,000), and the wonderful articulated 18 karat gold, fancy colored diamond, coral and ruby lion brooch by Van Cleef & Arpels, New York (est. $20,000-$30,000).

A lion brooch by Van Cleef & Arpels that evokes the iconography of The New York Public Library, an institution Astor championed for decades.

An emerald and diamond ring, set with a Colombian emerald weighing 22.84 carats, and an emerald and diamond necklace.

Astor was not afraid to wear her jewelry, no matter where she was going. “If I go up to Harlem or down to Sixth Street, and I’m not dressed up or I’m not wearing my jewelry, then the people feel I’m talking down to them,” she said. “People expect to see Mrs. Astor, not some dowdy old lady, and I don’t intend to disappoint.”

For more information about this auction, visit the Sotheby’s website.


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