Thursday, October 18, 2012

Brooke Astor's Collections at Auction

When we first moved to the loft and found ourselves really considering what went into designing a great gallery wall along a staircase, there was one example we returned to time and again…

Brooke Astor’s famous collection of dog paintings seen above and below marching up the elegant floating staircase of her country estate Holly Hilly overlooking the Hudson River, before being auctioned September 24th and 25th at Sotheby’s along with the rest of Mrs. Astor’s estate in a media frenzied sale that more than doubled high estimates and totaled nearly $19 million.

Of course even though it was stretched over two days, Sotheby’s couldn’t possibly divest the entire contents of both Holly Hilly as well her Park Avenue duplex decorated by Sister Parrish and Albert Hadley. The remaining mementos of Mrs. Astor’s privileged life turned up at auction October 5th at Stair Galleries of Hudson, New York in an anonymous sale simply titled “Property of a Lady”. A close inspection of the contents clearly identified the anonymous ‘Lady’ as none other than Brooke Astor, and while the sale received little media attention was written up by must-read style blogger and Architectural Digest contributor Mitchell Owens on the magazine’s blog.

Anyone with the time and inclination could easily peruse the catalogue and recognize several pieces from photographed interiors of the country estate and Park Avenue duplex. For example a quick Google images search for Brooke Astor’s Holly Hilly will most likely turn up the image of the curving staircase at the beginning of this post as taken by Sotheby’s. Those with a keen eye might notice the oval portrait in the lower left corner just behind the wrought iron railing as similar to one we’ve added to our own staircase gallery wall above. Those with an especially keen eye might even recognize the wooden farm basket Mrs. Astor used to hold books under her stairs as identical to the one seen above under our own far humbler flight.

It is in fact Mrs. Astor’s dog group portrait, or 20th Century School: “The Hunt Dogs” formerly Lot 251 of Stair Galleries Property of a Lady sale. While the bulk of Astor’s antique dog paintings went for nearly a million dollars in the Sotheby’s auction this piece being a newer reproduction was sent to the anonymous sale where we were delighted to acquire it at an exceptional price especially given the exceptional provenance. Legendary philanthropist and socialite Roberta Brooke Russell Kuser Marshall Astor who died in 2007 at the age of 105 was the widow of Vincent Astor, the last heir to the great Astor fortune who’s father John Jacob Astor IV went down in history as the richest man to die in the sinking of the Titanic and who’s grandmother Caroline literally defined American High Society in the Gilded Age.

While Brooke Astor was regarded as the defacto Queen of New York during her lifetime she was more than a last living bridge to the Gilded Age, spending half her life giving nearly $200 million of the Astor fortune back to the city that had created it. Aside from her philanthropic works and glittering social life Mrs. Astor had an eye for beauty and design working at House and Garden and as well as a stint with Dorothy Draper before becoming Mrs. Astor, and in 1982 writing a lovely piece on collecting for Architectural Digest discussing her dog portraits as well as the illusive subject of taste. At the end the author ponders her collection hitting the auction block hoping one day they’ll be loved as much as she’s loved them. Brooke Astor clearly loved this charming pack of pups enough to not only mix with her antique originals but to give such prominent placement, and we'd gladly assure her they’ve found a very loving home along with some of her other animal collections, but we’ll have to save those treasures for a future post.

Click HERE to read the next post on the Astor auction!

*While “The Hunt Dogs” are not for sale many of the surrounding art and accessories are available for purchase HERE in our online boutique Knickerbocker Antiques and Vintage.

Photos 1 & 2 via Sotheby's and photos 3 - 5 by KS&D.
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