Art Collection by Frances & Sidney Brody

The fine chaps at Christie's were bestowed with the yet to be determined good fortune of auctioning of the art collection from Frances and Sidney F. Brody. After a 4-month battle between auction house giants Sotheby's and Christie's, Christie's came out as the winner. Christie’s was able to wrestle the collection from Sotheby’s by offering the estate a guarantee, an undisclosed sum promised to the sellers regardless of the outcome of the sale. Christie's will host the sale of one of the greatest private American collections of Modern Art to come to auction: The Collection of Mrs. Sidney F. Brody. Mrs. Brody, who died in November at 93, was the wife of Sidney F. Brody, a real estate developer who died in 1983.

Remarkable for its extraordinary depth and quality, the collection boasts a wealth of master works by the towering figures of the Modernist movement, including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Alberto Giacometti, Georges Braque, Edouard Vuillard, Marino Marini, and Henry Moore. The total value of the works to be offered is expected to exceed $150 million, making it one of the most valuable single-owner collections ever offered at auction.

Frances Brody. Photo: LA Times.

The premier auction will occur on May 4, 2010, headlined as Christie's landmark Evening sale of Impressionist and Modern Art. The strength of the auction will be based on 3 specific works of art; Henri Matisse’s 1924 creation “Nu au coussin bleu” (estimated value of $20-30 million), Pablo Picasso’s 1932 creation "Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust” (estimate upon request), and Alberto Giacometti’s 1954 creation "Grande tete de Diego” (Estimated at $25-35 million).

The Collection of Mrs. Sidney F. Brody began in earnest with a Henry Moore sculpture placed under the Christmas tree, a gift for Mrs. Frances Brody from her husband Sidney, a prominent Los Angeles real estate developer. “Sid put it under the Christmas tree. And well, by then I guess we were hooked,” she recalled in a later interview. Mrs. Brody shared with her father Albert Lasker a passion for collecting and a preference for Modern art and design in particular.

Henri Matisse
Nu au coussin blue

Pablo Picasso
Nude, Green Leaves and Bust

For those lucky enough to have seen the Brody collection in situ in the couple’s elegant home, the true genius of the collection was apparent at every turn. From Pablo Picasso's tender love poem to Marie-Thérèse – a masterpiece by any measure – to Henri Matisse's Michaelangelesque seated nude, and Alberto Giacometti’s greatest bronzes, every room revealed fruits of sophisticated connoisseurship.

As dedicated patrons of the arts, the Brodys were founding benefactors of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), and the UCLA Art Council. Later in life, Mrs. Brody became a guiding patron of the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, CA. She passed away in November 2009 at age 93. In support of the Huntington’s goals of encouraging research, and promoting education, arts, humanities and botanical sciences, a portion of the proceeds from the sale of The Collection of Mrs. Sidney F. Brody will be donated to the organization.

This collection is important enough, for us, to feature it here. Remarkable even more is that the Brodys lived in a modernist house in the Holmby Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles that was designed by the architect A. Quincy Jones and the decorator William Haines to show off the couple’s collection. As a young couple in the late 1940s, the Brodys engaged the legendary architect A. Quincy Jones and interior designer William “Billy” Haines to custom design their home in Holmby Hills, CA. The LA Times called it a white stucco "modernist masterpiece" complete with an atrium which was visible from the entrance hall. Recognized as a tour-de-force of mid-century modernist architecture and the matching iconic modernist furniture collection which filled their house. Their modern house became the perfect foil for the couple’s burgeoning art collection, which grew over the years to become a scintillating display of paintings, sculpture and important works on paper. In 1953 Henri Matisse created a 12-by-11-foot ceramic-tile mural for their courtyard that is being donated to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

 Here is an interesting essay written by Christie's Honory Chairman. Christopher Burge.

I was privileged to meet Frances Brody for the first time at her elegant Los Angeles house, in the fall of 1978. The meeting began inauspiciously as she was convinced, in spite of my letter of introduction, that I was a jewelry specialist; and she had laid out her diamonds on the dining table for my inspection. Once we had cleared this awkward hurdle, she graciously took me through the house to admire, as I did unreservedly, her magnificent paintings and sculpture. I was, of course, well aware that some of the collection had been sold a year earlier, in October 1977: indeed, I had attended the auction at Parke-Bernet, which included, amongst many others, important paintings by Matisse and Courbet, a gorgeous Tahitian Gauguin fan and perhaps Modigliani’s chef d’oeuvre, his outsized portrait of Jeanne Hébuterne in a brilliant red shawl. It was all the more astonishing, therefore, to find the California house still replete with art of the greatest distinction.

Here was Picasso’s erotic but tender love poem to Marie-Thérèse Walter. Executed in the largest scale Picasso used at this time, the Brody picture is one of a number of superb portraits of her the artist made in 1932 when, having just turned fifty, he was preparing for his major retrospective at the Galeries Georges Petit in Paris. This is a tour de force even by Picasso’s standards, driven as he was to prove to the world that he was as creative as ever at this age. One "of the most memorable paintings of a memorable series," as John Richardson has written, it is a masterpiece by any measure.

Nearby hung another extraordinary work of art: Matisse’s Nu au coussin bleu of 1924, the Michelangelesque seated nude with her elbows raised behind her head in a favorite pose, one used again by the artist for a celebrated lithograph of the identical subject and also for one of his most important sculptures, the Grand nu assis. This was as good a Matisse oil as any in a private American collection at the time.

Every room revealed fruits of sophisticated connoisseurship: Vuillard’s striking early self-portrait, for one; Ensor’s charming small still life for another, a great late Braque still life of 1954 is only now coming in to its own. And then there was the sculpture: two of Giacometti’s greatest bronzes, his Le Chat (then prowling in the garden!) and his Grande tête mince, two inspired acts of collecting confidence at the time of purchase; a beautifully chosen array of Henry Moore at his very best, a perfect hand worked Marini bronze of a horse and rider, fine works by Degas and Calder, and not to be forgotten, the great Matisse ceramic tile composition, La Gerbe, in the courtyard outside, the unifying force in this harmonious synthesis of art and architecture. It was only later that I learned of the "dynastic" collecting tradition in the family, initiated by Frances Brody’s parents, Albert and Mary Lasker, whose extraordinary Impressionist and Modern painting collection was one of the finest in the United States. But whatever influence the Laskers, and others, may have had on the Brodys’ fledgling forays into the art market—a profound shared interest in the work of Matisse seems to be the most obvious—Sidney and Frances Brody struck out on their own to create a markedly beautiful and original collection, as original, in fact, as the daring modernist house, in which it was shown to such advantage. I was privileged to have seen it then and am honored to work with it now, together with my colleagues worldwide and Susan L. Brody, Special Art Trustee, to aide in its dispersal to a new generation of collectors.