David Rockefeller’s Thoughtful Path to Philanthropy

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

David Rockefeller’s Thoughtful Path to Philanthropy

Somewhere beneath Rockefeller Center, in a workroom with the bare fluorescent lights and tall shelves of a big discount warehouse, auction-house employees are sorting through Chinese porcelain tureens, duck decoys, prized paintings and hundreds of other items. A photo studio has been set up, too, the better to shoot close-ups for the catalogs that will be issued before everything is sold five months from now.

What is going on is exactly what David Rockefeller wanted.

The items being logged in by Christie’s in New York belonged to Mr. Rockefeller, the methodical banker from the storied family who died in March at age 101. The money from the sales will fund pledges he made more than a decade ago to a dozen institutions, among them two universities and the Museum of Modern Art, which stand to receive more than $100 million each.

Several other groups will receive amounts that are smaller but still immense by most people’s standards. And all of them could collect more, in the proportions he outlined, if bidding wars break out over his porcelain or his Picassos and Cézannes, driving the prices past the presale estimates.

So his charities would do even better.

Mr. Rockefeller, who gave away $20 million to $30 million a year in the last 10 years of his long life, found another way to use philanthropy to make a difference — a big difference, if the sales at Christie’s bring in the $700 million that some auction experts are predicting. The previous record for an auction was set when the collection of the fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner, Pierre Bergé, were sold for $484 million in Paris in 2009...

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