Sotheby's Announces $100m Solinger Collection

A central figure in New York's museum community at the height of the 20th Century, David M. Solinger owned important works by de Kooning, Miró, Picasso, Giacometti and more.

David Solinger at home with his art

Sotheby’s is adding yet another $100 million art collection to the Fall’s list of large collections coming to market. The 90-lot David M. Solinger collection, featuring works by de Kooning, Picasso, Giacometti, Miró, Calder and Dubuffet, will be sold across a number of Sotheby’s Autumn sales but also in a single-owner event on November 14th in New York. 

Leading the collection are a group of works that account for nearly two-thirds of the estimated value. These are Willem de Kooning’s Collage (1950), estimated at $18 million; Alberto Giacometti’s Trois Hommes qui marchant (Grand Plateau) (1951), estimated at $15 million; Joan Miró, Femme, étoiles (1945), estimated at $15 million; and Pablo Picasso, Femme dans un fauteuil (1927), featuring one of the earliest depictions of Marie-Thérèse Walter, that is also estimated at $15 million. 

Solinger, who died in 1996, was a lawyer who became the president of the board of the Whitney Museum when it made its transition from its founders to becoming a major institution in its own right. Among his other contributions to the Whitney, Solinger raised the money to build Marcel Breuer’s building that housed the museum for so long (and currently acts as a temporary home to the Frick Collection.) 

Willem de Kooning, CollageWillem de Kooning, Collage (1950), estimated at $18 million

Solinger’s work for the Whitney did not prevent him from also doing favors for the Museum of Modern Art. Solinger had taken painting classes with Hans Hoffmann in Provincetown where Hoffmann and his circle of artists, including Robert Motherwell and Franz Kline, became legal clients and friends. He even obliged Alfred Barr when the MoMA director could not get any of his board members to buy and donate to the museum one of Kline’s works from the artist’s first show. Solinger did the honors, helping both men out. 

Personal relationships played an important part in Solinger’s collecting. Early to recognize Willem de Kooning's talent and the significance of his work, Solinger went directly to the artist’s studio in 1948 or 49. There he found a work he particularly liked lying in a corner unframed. He asked de Kooning if he could buy it. He offered $100 but gave in when the artist pushed him up to $150. He would go on to buy many more works by de Kooning for the Whitney and himself, including Collage (above.)

Having close connections to the leading museums and artists of mid-Century America, Solinger also developed strong friendships with dealers like Samuel Kootz, Pierre Matisse, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Sidney Janis, Edith Halpert and Aimé Maeght. 

Solinger collected widely. He owned several works by Jean Dubuffet. Two were donated to Cornell University but a further five works will be sold with the collection. Three works by Paul Klee are included in the sale. A black mobile by Calder from 1959 will appear with a $3 million estimate. There’s also a Nicolas de Staël painting from 1951 that Solinger bought at first sight without knowing anything about the artist. It carries a $1.5 million estimate. 

Like many of his peers, and many Contemporary art collectors in recent years, Solinger also collected African and pre-Columbian works of art. Those will appear in a separate sale on November 22nd in New York. Some works will be sold in Paris on December 6th and others will appear in the Modern Day sale in New York on November 15th. 

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