NEW YORK - In the fall of 2008 and spring of 2009, Sotheby’s New York will have the privilege of offering for sale Property from the Collection of Frieda and Milton Rosenthal, distinguished collectors and philanthropists. Their interest in collecting began with an early passion for African and Oceanic Art and over the years, they broadened their scope to include top quality works of Chinese and Japanese Art and also American Indian Art. Across these varied categories, the Rosenthals sought out the very best examples in each collecting field. The historical significance of many of the works in their collection extends far past the context of their creation; for example, the pair of Senufo Rhythm Pounders and the Sawos Malu Board are iconic sculptures of the type which so inspired the development of Modern Art movements including Cubism and Surrealism. This is the most important collection of African and Oceanic Art to be offered in forty years in New York. The collection also features exceptional works of American Indian, Japanese and Chinese Works of Art and Jewelry. Property from the Rosenthal Collection is estimated to sell for $10/15 million.
Jean Fritts, Worldwide Head of African and Oceanic Art, said “It is the greatest honor for Sotheby's to sell African and Oceanic art from the Collection of Frieda and Milton Rosenthal. The collection is outstanding across the fields of African, Polynesia and Melanesia. This is one of the last great historic American Collections in the field. We are delighted to celebrate the great passion and refined eye of the Rosenthal's whose collection spanned so many collecting fields. Sotheby's has a long and close relationship with the family. The auction presents works from their earliest purchases at the landmark auction ‘The Collection of Helena Rubinstein’ sold at Parke-Bernet, New York in April of 1966 through the iconic Pair of Senufo Rhythm Pounders, acquired the following year at Parke-Bernet, New York, in the sale of works from the Collection of Nelson Rockefeller through to their acquisitions in London at Sotheby's in the 1970s such as the Rare Austral Islands stool bought from The George Ortiz sale.”
African and Oceanic Art Single-Owner Sale – November 14, 2008
New York exhibition dates: October 31 to November 13, 2008
On November 14, 2008, a single-owner sale of African and Oceanic Art from the Collection of Frieda and Milton Rosenthal will be held at Sotheby’s New York. Frieda and Milton Rosenthal were pioneers in the field who began collecting in the early 1960s. The Rosenthals were early supporters of institutions such as the National Museum of African Art, Washington, D.C., The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Museum, which at the time were in the process of establishing collections in the field. This sophisticated and cohesive collection reflects the Rosenthals discerning ability to select objects of timeless beauty. The pre-sale estimate for the works of African and Oceanic Art offered in this sale is $7.5/11.5 million.
Two iconic works of African art will highlight this single-owner sale of African and Oceanic Art. The Pair of Senufo Rhythm Pounders, Ivory Coast (est. $3/5 million, pictured on page 1), are the most important example to come to the market in recent time. The sculptures are unique to African history because they have survived intact as an original pair commissioned to celebrate the founding ancestors of a Senufo community. These male and female ancestor figures, which represent an ideal of humanity in which a man and woman are complementary partners at the origin of life, would have been pounded on the ground during funeral ceremonies to gather already-deceased ancestors. The Rosenthals cherished the sculptures and displayed them prominently in their living room. These iconic works were formerly in the collection of Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller, a powerful promoter of African Art in the United States. Vice President Rockefeller, together with René D’Harnoncourt, founded The Museum of Primitive Art in 1954, which was established out of the Vice President’s personal collection. The Museum of Primitive Art was open to the public from 1957 through 1974 in a townhouse on West 54th Street in New York City. The Rosenthals acquired the Rhythm Pounders at an auction at Sotheby’s Parke Bernet in May of 1967; the proceeds of the sale benefited the Museum of Primitive Art. In 1978, Vice President Rockefeller transferred the Museum of Primitive Art collection to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Rockefeller also bequeathed his personal collection to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which occurred upon his death in 1979. Since 1982, this collection has been housed in a designated wing at The Metropolitan Museum, The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, named after the Vice President’s son.
The Pair of Senufo Rhythm Pounders have been exhibited and published extensively over the past forty-five years. They were exhibited for the first time in 1961 at the Art Institute of Chicago. Their impressive exhibition history also includes the Grand Palais in Paris (1966), the inaugural exhibition of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art (1988), the Guggenheim Museum in New York (1995) and most recently, Mr. and Mrs. Rosenthal loaned the Senufo Rhythm Pounders to The Metropolitan Museum in 2002, reuniting them with the Rockefeller collection as the centerpiece of a special exhibition, Genesis: Ideas of Origin in African Art in the Museum’s Michael C. Rockefeller Wing gallery. The sculptures were situated at the physical core of the galleries as the focal point of the examination of origin myth and their representation through masterpieces of African art, and they were also featured on the poster for the exhibition.
The Rosenthal collection also includes a Kota Reliquary Guardian Figure (est. $300/500,000), attributed to the Master of Sebé from Gabon. This sculpture belongs to a group of less than ten figures which represent the highest level of Kota statuary. In African art, it is almost unknown to be able to attribute a sculpture to the hand of an individual artist. It is the unique formal qualities found on this example which make this unusual identification possible. Artists such as Picasso are known to have owned examples of Kota statuary and to have derived inspiration from their abstract form. The Kota people were fascinated by the shine of certain materials present in this Reliquary Guardian Figure, such as brass, copper and bone, which are difficult to find in this region of Africa due to its dense rainforests. A Fang Male Reliquary Guardian Figure, Gabon (est. $350/450,000), is another centerpiece of the African collection. The figure was once in the collection of René Rasmussen, Paris, and was published in the seminal 1951 book Art Negre. This type of reliquary object was recently highlighted in the 2007-2008 exhibition Eternal Ancestors: the Art of the Central African Reliquary at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
From Oceania, the collection includes an exceptional number of fine works from Polynesia and Melanesia. Highlights include the rare East Sepik River Sawos Ancestral Malu Board from New Guinea (est. $500/700,000). Carved with stone or shell tools in the pre-contact period, the abstract board is overlaid with layers of red ochre, black and white pigment. This openwork form panel has an anthropomorphic face at top, the body diffusing into leaf shapes which evoke faces of multiple ancestors. The provenance of the Malu board includes some of the most influential and important collectors of Oceanic art in the 20th century: Arthur Speyer, Berlin; Serge Brignoni, Bern; and John Friede, New York. The Sawos Malu Board was exhibited in the landmark exhibition Primitivism and Twentieth Century Art: Affinities of the Tribal and the Modern at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1984. Curated by William Rubin, this was the first exhibition in American history highlighting the affinities of the tribal arts and 20th century artists, and this Sawos Malu Board was clearly influential to Surrealist artists such as Joan Miró.
A Rare Austral Islands Stool (est. $250/350,000) is carved from one piece of wood and boasts an exceptionally fine aged reddish-brown patina. This elegant abstract carving, one of the best examples of its type, was sold at a record price at Sotheby’s London in the sale of the George Ortiz Collection, the world renowned collector of ancient and tribal arts, in June of 1978. This Austral Islands Stool is a work of eternal beauty which gives testimony to a lost world of Oceania. Works such as this one would have been owned by important members of society and would have been carved with stone tools and shell and the surface would have been polished with sand and oil. The smooth and minimalist form of this work is reflected in contemporary works of 20th century design.
An Easter Island Male Figure, Moai kavakava, carved of wood with eyes inset with obsidian and bone (est. $250/350,000) depicts a figure standing on bent legs arched forward, with a large head pitched forward with an expressionistic face and inset eyes. Easter Island is one of the world's most isolated inhabited islands and was discovered by the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen, who encountered Easter Island on Easter Sunday, 1722. The Island was also visited by Captain James Cook on his second voyage in 1774, who reported upon the Island upon his return home. The statues found on this remote and rocky island have long been a source of curiosity and speculation because of the great number of the figures, carved by the native islanders using stone hand chisels and scarce materials.
Chinese and Japanese Works of Art – September 16, 2008
New York exhibition dates: September 12 to 15, 2008
The Collection of Chinese and Japanese Works of Art from the collection of Frieda and Milton Rosenthal features diverse pieces of the highest quality. The Rosenthals were avid and focused collectors, surrounded by their artworks at home and shared their extensive knowledge with other collectors and museums. Collecting mostly in the 1980’s and primarily at auction, their collection features classical Ming and Qing furniture, and several fine examples of 17th and 18th Century Huanghuali furniture with beautiful patina from years of superb attention, including a pair of Chinese “Official’s Hat” armchairs from the Ming Dynasty (est. $80/100,000) and a fine and rare side table, Ming Dynasty (est. $50/70,000), notable not only for its rich color and classic form, but also as a rare type where the construction allows it to be easily assembled and disassembled. Also included: a large Chinese carpet from the early 19th Century (20’6” x 14’6”, est. $80/100,000); Han and Tang Dynasty pottery, featuring an outstanding pair of painted pottery vases and covers, Han Dynasty (est. $15/25,000); paintings and Japanese 18th/19th Century gold lacquer. Highlights from the Collection include a striking pair of sancai-glazed pottery Earth Spirits, Tang Dynasty (est. $70/90,000). Tomb guardian figures of this magnificent large size and exceptional quality of modeling are rare, indicating that the present pair was made in the workshops of either Luoyang or Chang’an, the two metropolitan centers of the Tang era in the late 7th and early 8th Century.
Leading the Rosenthals’ Chinese offerings is a Limestone Buddhist Stele from the Wei Dynasty, Mid 6th Century (est. $120/160,000). The exquisite Japanese lacquer is highlighted by two gold lacquer boxes made for the Meiji Emperor, a Finely Decorated Japanese Gold Lacquer Writing Box (est. $12/18,000) and a Finely Decorated Japanese Gold Lacquer Document Box (est. $25/30,000) within a storage box bearing Imperial Household storage labels.
Important Jewels – September 25, 2008
New York exhibition dates: September 20 to 25, 2008
The Rosenthals were known for their great taste, which carried over from their collecting of art to jewelry from Frieda Rosenthal’s personal collection. An offering of her jewels will be included in the September 25, 2008 sale of Important Jewels at Sotheby’s New York. Highlighting this selection will be a Diamond Ring, Harry Winston (est. $200/250,000). This spectacular ring is 5.81 carats, D color, VVS1 and Potentially Flawless. Another Diamond Ring features an old European-cut diamond weighing approximately 5.50 carats, flanked by two baguette diamonds (est. $25/35,000).
The unique jewelry offerings from the Rosenthal collection will also feature a Seed Pearl and Diamond Sautoir, French, circa 1910 (est. $15/20,000). The long seed pearl necklace, supporting a fringed seed pearl tassel pendant, is connected by openwork links and set with over 7 carats of old European-cut and single-cut diamonds. An Eighteen-Karat Gold, Platinum and Diamond Necklace, Cartier, Paris (est. $6/8,000) is designed with fluted foliate links enhanced with round diamonds weighing approximately 2.35 carats. Inspired by ethnic motifs and contemporary in style, an Eighteen-Karat Gold Bracelet, Pol Bury (est. $6/8,000) is designed as a cuff topped by a plaque set with articulated spheres.
American Indian Art – May 2009
The Rosenthals began spending time in Arizona in 1985, and exposure to this region led them to expand their collection to include great works of American Indian Art. The highlight of this offering of American Indian Art from the Rosenthal Collection is a Pacific Northwest Coast Polychrome Wood Comb, possibly Tsimshian, with a stylized beaver motif (est. $60/80,000). A Pacific Northwest Coast Chilkat Blanket, from the mid-19th century (est. $60/80,000) contains a killer whale motif. A Large Apache Polychrome Pictorial Olla (est. $50/70,000) is woven in willow and devil’s claw, with typical geometric and figurative designs. Another highlight is a Late Classic Saltillo (est. $40/60,000), which was previously offered at Sotheby’s in 1985. This work, woven in two vertical panels, boasts a geometric design of diamonds and triangles in alternating color with a zigzag pattern on four side borders. Also being offered is a Pacific Northwest Coast Shaman’s Rattle, Tlingit, 19th century (est. $35/45,000), formerly in the collection of J.J. Klejman, New York. The collection also features two Large Apache Pictorial Trays (est. $15/20,000 each) and a Hopi Kachina Mask (est. $10/15,000), which was previously offered at Sotheby’s New York in 1985. The approximately twenty lots of American Indian Art are estimated to sell for $413/572,000.
Additional Offerings from the Rosenthal Collection
Works from the Collection of Frieda and Milton Rosenthal will also be offered in the sale of Important Silver (October 17, 2008), highlighted by a Danish Silver Five-Piece Tea and Coffee Service with Matching Tray (est. $30/50,000). An American Silver Serving Tray by Tiffany & Company (est. $5/7,000) will be offered in the sale of Americana (January 2009), and a selection of American Turned Wood Bowls with estimates ranging from $6,000 to $18,000 will be included in the Important Postwar and Contemporary Design sale (November 12, 2008).
About the Collectors
Milton Rosenthal, a lawyer by training, was the former chairman and CEO of the chemical giant Engelhard Minerals and Chemicals. Mr. Rosenthal served as a first lieutenant in the United States Army Judge advocate general’s office in World War II. He was a life trustee of Mount Sinai Medical Center, where the Frieda and Milton F. Rosenthal Coronary Care Unit is named for him and his wife of over 60 years, Frieda Rosenthal. Mr. Rosenthal graduated from the Law School at Columbia University in New York in 1935, and in 1994, the Milton F. and Frieda B. Rosenthal Scholarship was established at Columbia Law School in celebration of Mr. Rosenthal’s 60th reunion anniversary. Frieda Rosenthal earned her M.A. and M. Phil. in Art History at Columbia University and served as the Chairman of the Advisory Council to the Department of Art History & Archaeology for over twenty years. Frieda Rosenthal had a broad range of educational and philanthropic interests throughout her life. She was involved in the endowment of fellowship funds at Columbia to support the research of graduate students and of professorships in a range of areas, including African Art. She also served as a lecturer in African, Oceanic and American Art at Columbia University and instructor of African Art at Fordham University and Purchase College, S.U.N.Y. Frieda Rosenthal served as a Member of the Commission of the National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C. for twenty years, from 1984 through 2004, and she was Chair of the Frieda and Milton Rosenthal at their home in Harrison, New York Commission from 1998 through 2001. Frieda Rosenthal also served on Advisory Councils at the Neuberger Museum in Westchester County, New York, and the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona. She was a Vice-Chairman, Trustee and
Chairman of the Acquisitions Committee at the Brooklyn Museum.
In addition to the aforementioned New York exhibition dates for the individual sales, highlights of the African, Oceanic, American Indian and Jewelry offerings will be exhibited at Sotheby’s New York in the second floor galleries from September 8 to 13, 2008, and additional African and Oceanic highlights from the Collection of Frieda and Milton Rosenthal will be exhibited concurrently at Sotheby’s Paris from September 8 to 14, 2008.