The 44 lots at the evening sale of 19th and 20th century art evening sale raised $646.1m (£476.1m) including premium, with seven artists records set.
The auction kicked off what is certain to be an epic week of auctions in New York with 1550 lots in the Rockefeller collection being sold across seven separate sales (including an online-only event of 650 lots).
In terms of all-time highs for single-owner sales, the total for this first tranche has already surpassed both the $443m made by the Yves Saint Laurent sale at Christie's Paris in 2009 and the total of around $480m from the A. Alfred Taubman collection that rivals Sotheby’s sold across two selling series in November 2015 and January 2016.
Chairman of Christie’s Americas Marc Porter said: “The Rockefeller legacy has resonated strongly and we are thrilled with the results achieved for the first evening in this series of sales, already over our expectations.”
The collection had been heavily marketed in an operation comparable with Christie’s record-breaking sale of Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi which made $450m (including premium) in November.
In the months leading up to this sale, Christie’s took the top Rockfeller works on a tour to London, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Beijing and Shanghai. A virtual tour of the collection was posted on the Christie’s website along with multiple videos about the history of the collection and its individual works. Press coverage followed in almost every major newspaper and media outlet.
Christie’s reported bidding from 34 countries on the night.
Seven auction records were set at the evening sale for Monet, Matisse, Corot, Delacroix, Seguin, Morandi and Redon.
The auction was led by a Rose Period Pablo Picasso painting from 1905 which had been selected by Peggy and David Rockefeller from Gertrude Stein’s collection. Fillette à la corbeille fleurie had been estimated at $100m but, with the bidding slightly slow to materialise on this lot, it was knocked down at $102m (£75m) to a bidder on the phone. The price including premium was $115m (£84.7m), making it the second highest ever for a Picasso.
More competition came for a sumptuous 1923 reclining nude by Henri Matisse that was painted in Nice in 1923 and had previously hung in the living room of the Rockefellers’ Hudson Pines residence in Westchester County.
Estimated in the region of $70m, Odalisque couchée aux magnolias drew five phone bidders and eventually sold at $80.8m (£59.5) with premium, a new auction high for the artist.
David Rockefeller (1915-2017), who died in March 2017 aged 101, was an American banker and the youngest son of John D. Rockefeller Jr. He was the last surviving grandson of Standard Oil baron John D Rockefeller – the US’s first billionaire.
Some of the works in his art collection were inherited, although others were acquired (including at auctions) as he and his wife Peggy developed their own taste.
The Christie’s sale will benefit a dozen charities and foundations supported by the couple including a number relating to scientific research, higher education, arts projects, sustainable development and land conservation.
Their eldest son, David Rockefeller, Jr. said: “These auctions represent a way for our parents to continue their philanthropy after their lifetimes, since the proceeds are destined for institutions they cared deeply about.”
Christie’s sale of the collection continues over the next two days with further auctions of paintings, English and European furniture, American decorative arts, silver, Asian works of art, European ceramics and Chinese export porcelain – including 67 dinner services.
Rockefeller Collection – In numbers
Number of lots in the Rockefeller collection being offered at Christie’s.
Evening sales taking place in New York.
Total number of live auctions for the collection at Christie’s Rockefeller Center saleroom in New York.
Lots featured in the online sale which is organised into eight collecting themes with estimates ranging from $100 to $10,000.
The number of dinner services in the Rockefeller collection including a spectacular ‘Rockefeller’ pattern export porcelain service.
The sale of the Rockefeller collection will benefit a dozen charities and foundations.