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Huntington could see its 'largest cash gift ever'--more than $21 million--from Brody sale at Christie's

May 5, 2010 |  2:15 pm

The question of who bought Picasso’s “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust” this week for a record-shattering price of $106.5 million is not the only mystery generated by Christie’s sale of artwork from the Frances Brody estate.

The other question is how much the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, named in Brody's will as an heir of the estate, will benefit from the proceeds. Christie’s has already sold the Picasso and her other artwork for a total of $225.9 million, and Coldwell Banker in Beverly Hills just listed her Holmby Hills house at $24.95 million.

So will the Huntington be getting $10 million? $50 million? $100 million?

Huntington president Steven S. Koblik, who is currently on vacation on a ship off the coast of Italy, issued the following statement:

“The exact size of Francie's gift to the Huntington will not be known for a considerable period of time. Nonetheless, when we have the exact figure, it could be the largest cash gift ever received by the Huntington. Francie designated the gardens as her primary interest, but her gift will benefit every aspect of the Huntington.”

Currently, according to Huntington spokesperson Thea Page, a donation of $21 million from Charles and Nancy Munger in 2002 for the Munger Research Center stands as the Huntington's largest cash gift in its 91-year history.

Reached last month before leaving on vacation, Koblik said he could not disclose any terms of the Brody gift. He declined to comment on whether the gift is expressed in her will as a flat percentage or a more complicated formula, and whether there is a cap on the amount.

While this suspense remains, one thing is clear. The Brody sale at Christie’s was not the typical case of a collector's heirs selling off the Braque and Picasso paintings because they couldn't agree on how to value or divvy up the property.

Rather, Brody's will itself stipulated that the art be sold. "She had decided early on that the art would go to the estate and the estate would sell the art," confirmed Koblik.

Such attention to detail fits, he said, the way Brody -- a longtime member of the Huntington's board of overseers who died last year at age 93 -- liked to live. At one point she worked closely with decorator Billy Haines and architect A. Quincy Jones to style a midcentury home that was picture-perfect.

Toward the end of her life, when she was largely bed-ridden, “she still liked to receive you beautifully dressed with a glass of champagne,” Koblik said.

And after her death last year, her affairs unfolded according to plan. Koblik said she even "choreographed her own service" by drawing up list of speakers and guests -- Nancy Reagan among them -- in advance.

So yes, Koblik said, there is drama in her handling of the Huntington gift, but “that was Francie’s way.”

“She choreographed it A-Z, that’s the way she liked to call it.”

-- Jori Finkel

Follow the writer on Twitter: @jorifinkel.

Image of Brody home, designed in 1950 by A. Quincy Jones, by Kate Carr Photography