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Private art collection may bring more than $150 million

March 9, 2010 |  7:17 pm

Matisse One of the most vaunted private art collections in Los Angeles, highlighted by a prized Picasso nude and including works by Henri Matisse, Alberto Giacometti, Henry Moore, Georges Braque, Edgar Degas and Edouard Vuillard, is expected to fetch more than $150 million at auction when it goes on sale in May, Christie's announced Tuesday.

L.A.'s art-loving public won't be left empty-handed when the collection of works by 20th century European artists amassed by collectors Sidney and Frances Lasker Brody of Holmby Hills goes under the gavel May 4-5 in New York.

The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, where Frances Brody was a board member for 20 years before her death last November at 93, will receive an unspecified share of the sale proceeds. And the Los Angeles County Museum of Art recently harvested its bequest, "La Gerbe," a 12-by-11-foot ceramic mural (pictured) that the Brodys commissioned from Matisse for their home's courtyard in 1952 or 1953. The Brodys were founding donors to LACMA in 1965, and Sidney Brody, who died in 1983, served as chairman of the museum's board.

Frances Brody had promised the Matisse mural to LACMA on its 25th anniversary, said Stephanie Barron, senior curator of modern art, and two weeks ago, the 1-ton work was hoisted by crane from the atrium it had occupied for more than 50 years, lifted over trees, and transported intact to the museum. Barron said it will undergo "minor conservation," then be installed within about six months in a prominent indoor spot.

"This is what I call a signature, destination piece, a tremendously important acquisition for us," Barron said.

LACMA did not angle for other donations from the collection, Barron said, because Frances Brody had made it clear that her remembrance for the Los Angeles public would be the Matisse mural. A Brody-donated Parisian street scene, painted by Pierre Bonnard around 1903, has also long been in LACMA's collection.

"There's always disappointment when great works of art leave Los Angeles," the LACMA curator said of the coming auction. "I hope they find good homes, and I hope the house, which is itself a masterpiece of mid-20th century architecture, finds a good new owner." The modernist home, designed by architect A. Quincy Jones and interior designer William "Billy" Haines, became a social magnet for the likes of Gary Cooper and Joan Crawford.

Picasso At the Huntington, president Steven Koblik said, "we have no idea about the amount of money" that the museum will receive from the auction proceeds. "This all depends upon the success of the sale. It was Mrs. Brody's intention and her children's desire that her love of the Huntington [be reflected by] appropriate support out of the estate. We're very grateful." The Huntington doesn't collect 20th century European art, Koblik said, so it did not solicit any gifts of art from the trove that Christie's will auction.

Christie's announcement characterizes the Brody holdings as "one of the greatest private American collections of modern art to come to auction." It cites Picasso's 1932 "Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust" (pictured) as the chief prize, with no published estimated value; Matisse's 1924 painting "Nu au coussin bleu" is estimated to fetch $20 million to $30 million, and Giacometti's 1954 bronze bust,  "Grande tete de Diego," is pegged at $25 million to $35 million. Barron, the LACMA curator, said the museum owns a different cast of the Giacometti.

-- Mike Boehm

Related

Frances Lasker Brody, 1916-2009

Photo: Henri Matisse mural, donated to LACMA, pictured in the atrium of the Brody home in Holmby Hills; Picasso's  "Nude, Green Leaves, and Bust." Credits: LACMA; Christies (Picasso).

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