Wednesday, September 26, 2012

All sold out

Letting the fresh air in. 4:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Wednesday, September 26, 2012.  Beautiful, early autumn day, yesterday in New York, with temperatures in the 60s.

This week in New York is UN Week, as was noted here already, and today is the second and final day of Yom Kippur. These two events are related calendar-wise and for the short duration the city is quieter. Many of our Jewish brethren are observing the Yom Kippur holiday which ends today with the traditional break-fast. Because of the holiday, the social calendar is relatively bare for those two days. I went to dinner last night at Swifty’s where, because of those two events, they hadn’t anticipated much business. It was packed.

Tomorrow, all hell breaks loose and the social merry-go-round begins again.

A much talked about event in the past two days has been the Brooke Astor estate auction at Sotheby’s. There was an exhibition of the sale items late last week. It was a hot ticket because everyone wanted to see what the lady had. Last Thursday night I went to dinner at La Grenouille with a group of friends, all of whom had just come from the opening of the exhibition.

There was some surprise among the viewers, even disappointment that it wasn’t more spectacular — major furniture, paintings, etc. However, after seeing the catalogue, it looked appropriate for the woman and her time. Her belongings reflected a child of 19th century parents, wife of a 19th century American heir, and a lifetime spent in stylish and artistically conservative circles throughout the 20th century. She was a woman of taste whose choices reflected the elegance and refinement of the age into which she was born. Comfort and beauty were the reassuring qualities of her everyday living choices.

The sale ended last night with an impressive total of $18.8 million and doubled its high estimate of $9.7 million. 95 percent of the 901-lot auction was sold. Buyers competed for paintings, drawings, Chinese works of art, furniture and decorative art from Mrs. Astor’s New York City and Westchester residences, as well as jewelry from her personal collection.

The jewelry sold out — all 64 lots — for $5.7 million, $2 million above their high estimate.  Her platinum, emerald and diamond engagement ring weighing 22.84 carats carrying an estimate of $100,000 - $150,000 sold for $1.2 million. The platinum, 18 karat gold, emerald and diamond necklace which her husband Vincent Astor chose for her from Bulgari in 1959 (shortly before he died) with an estimate of $250,000 - $350,000 went for almost twice that — $686,500. Mrs. Astor loved emeralds. All of her jewelry sold well above the estimates, clearly demonstrating what has substantial value in the marketplace today.
A Platinum, 18 Karat Gold, Emerald and Diamond Necklace, Bulgari, 1959
Estimate: $250,000 - 350,000
Lot Sold: $686,500
Wearing the necklace at The New York Landmarks Conservancy's annual gala in 2001. Photo: JH/NYSD.
Monday’s sessions featured property from her duplex apartment in the Rosario Candela-designed building at 778 Park Avenue at 73rd Street, including a wide array of fine and decorative art — evidence of the lady’s many travels and diverse interests — with 19th century paintings, old master drawings, and Chinese works of art commanding top prices along with porcelain, silver, French and English furniture and more. A giltwood box from the apartment’s sitting room with an estimate of $400 went for $21,250. A John Frederick Lewis painting “A Memlook Bey, Egypt,” with an estimate of $300,000/$500,000, sold for $1,594,500. A Canaletto, Capriccio with the Loggetta of Sansovino with an estimate of $300,000/$500,000 fetched $1.2 million.

The proceeds from the sales will go to some of her favorite charities and public institutions like the New York Public Library and the Metropolitan Museum, the Morgan Library and the Animal Medical Center.
A Pair of 18 Karat Gold and Diamond 'Bowknot' Earclips, Verdura, 1985
Estimate: $6,000 - 8,000
Lot Sold: $40,625
A Platinum, Emerald and Diamond Ring
Estimate: $100,000 - 150,000.
Lot Sold: $1,202,500
A Pair of Platinum, Emerald and Diamond Earclips, Verdura
Estimate: $30,000 - 40,000
Lot Sold: $152,500
A Platinum, Emerald and Diamond Brooch, Van Cleef & Arpels, New York, Circa 1965
Estimate: $60,000 - 80,000
Lot Sold: $254,500
This past Monday’s Diary featured a story about "Love, Fiercely," a new book by Jean Zimmerman about the John Singer Sargent portrait (in the Met) of Edith and Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes, painted in 1899 in London. The piece provoked my friend Jon Marder the public relations man to send me the following note:

Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes’ first major architectural commission was the University Settlement’s building at 184 Eldridge Street in New York City's Lower East Side. Attached is a list of that buildings original donors (the document is dated February 9, 1899).  

“We are trying to bring together descendents of those donors for a group photograph and a little champagne reception on Thursday, October 11 at 4:30 PM at the Eldridge Street building. If any of your readers are related to these generous donors we would love to hear from them and have them there. They can contact me at

University Settlement Society of New York at 184 Eldridge St.
This year marks University Settlement’s 125th birthday.  The building Newt Stokes designed is still in use today — just as he intended in the 19th century — helping immigrants achieve their American dream.

Settlement houses established in the latter quarter of the 19th century were created with the idea that immigrants and low-income families deserve basic services like quality education, decent housing, access to open space for exercise and health, and support for the aging. What a good idea. They proved that with a little help, these families could get a foothold on prosperous stable lives in their new country. Providing social services that give families a helping hand has become part of our national fabric thanks to these far-seeing generous men and women.

University Settlement has continued to set the standard and invent best practices for others to follow. Today, the organization has remained true to its first principle: to strengthen a community, you must strengthen families. And to strengthen a family, you must provide a range of services including childcare, after-school programs, education for adults, and meals for seniors. Providing integrated services that strengthen a whole family makes all the difference.  

The list, dated February 9, 1899, contains many familiar New York names along with some which are still familiar to New Yorkers today. No doubt, there are hundreds, maybe thousands of descendents of these men and their organizations. Many descendents of these people are still very active in philanthropic circles in New York.

When you look at their donations, remember that the dollar then was worth more than thirty times what it is today, so James Speyer’s “subscription” of $15,000 would be more than a half million in today’s currency.  The J. D. Rockefeller on the list is the original, the patriarch of the family. Felix Warburg’s house on 91st Street and Fifth Avenue is now the Jewish Museum. Otto Kahn’s Italianate palazzo is now the Convent of the Sacred Heart Academy.  Mrs. C. P. Huntington would later build what is now the Huntington Museum in Pasadena.

Contact DPC here.