Updated: Oct 9, 2020
By Bart Boehlert
The philanthropists Jayne Wrightsman and her husband Charles devoted a lifetime to collecting important 18th-century French art and decorative arts, both for their homes and as gifts to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In fact, through great taste, passion, and self-taught knowledge, they amassed the finest collection in the United States. The grande dame, cultural patron and connoisseur passed away in 2019 at age 99, and now Brown Harris Stevens is offering her luxurious apartment at 820 Fifth Avenue and Christie’s brings to auction her private collection of art and antiques.
A native of Flint, Michigan, Jayne Larkin was 24 in 1944 when she married Charles Wrightsman, 49 and the president of Standard Oil. Decorator Stéphane Boudin from Maison Jansen first advised the Wrightsmans on 18th-century French furniture and decorative arts when he collaborated with them on their home in Palm Beach, which they bought in 1947. Jayne Wrightsman subsequently introduced Jacqueline Kennedy to Boudin, who helped the First Lady renovate the White House.
Attracted to the elegance and beauty of the French 18th-century ancien régime, the Wrightmans commenced collecting art and antiques, and ultimately donated much of it the Metropolitan Museum of Art to create the stunning 13-room Wrightsman Galleries for French Decorative Arts. After Charles died in 1986, Jayne became a trustee of the museum and remained devoted to the Galleries. Upon her death, she bequeathed 375 more art works and $80 million to the museum. “The Met would not be what it is today without Jayne and Charles Wrightsman,” said the Museum’s Director Max Hollein.
In the 1950s the Wrightsmans purchased a splendid Manhattan apartment at 820 Fifth Avenue from the Baroness Renée de Becker, who was the great-granddaughter of Baron James de Rothschild. Here the Wrightsmans enjoyed living with art and antiques, and created a uniquely refined world. Vogue noted the number of great works on display in “a house that is not at all a museum,” observing that the grand residence had “life, scent, prettiness, the flowers, the essence of the world of Watteau and Fragonard.”
At East 63rd Street, the 12-story limestone-clad 820 Fifth Avenue was designed by Starrett & Van Vleck in the Neo-Italian Renaissance Palazzo style in 1916, and is one of Manhattan’s most prestigious addresses. Listed with John Burger at Brown Harris Stevens, the stately full-floor apartment on the third floor features 18 rooms with oversized windows and 100 feet of frontage facing Central Park. Six wood-burning fireplaces, parquet de Versailles wood floors, and French carved boiserie wood paneling add to the aristocratic allure.
Upon his first visit to the Wrightsman apartment in 1993, Charles Cator, Deputy Chairman at Christie’s, recalls that “all that had been created in those beautifully soft and elegant rooms, in which remarkable works of art and furniture combined with effortless charm, made a lasting impression on me.” This month, Christie’s brings to auction the Private Collection of Jayne Wrightsman, comprised of Old Master paintings and sculpture, European furniture and ceramics, Chinese ceramics and works of art, and more. Mrs. Wrightsman lived with these pieces at home at 820 Fifth Avenue and designated them for sale to benefit philanthropy.
“It’s exciting to see Jayne Wrightsman’s exemplary taste, erudition and style come to life through the lots being offered by Christie’s in her auction,” says Elizabeth Seigel, Head of Sale, Specialist at Christie’s, who notes that more intimate objects are offered as well like an egg charm that Jackie Kennedy gave to Jayne Wrightsman in 1963, and roles of fabric that decorated rooms in the apartment. An online auction ending October 15th has 204 lots while a live auction on October 14th offers 210 lots. Highlights include 18th-century portraits, porcelains, carpets and silver; all attest to the exquisite eye of Jayne Wrightsman.
Pictured auction items above:
1. Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (French, 1780-1867)
USD 700,000 - USD 1,000,000
2. A Louis XV Ormolu Mounted Chinese Lacquer and Vernis Martin Commode
Attributed to Jean Desforges, Circa 1745-49
USD 100,000 – USD 150,000
3. A Set of Fifteen Sevres Porcelain 'Beau Bleu' Dessert Plates From a Service Given by Charles X to Sir Thomas Lawrence
USD 30,000 - USD 50,000
4. Édouard-Henri-Théophile Pingret (French, 1788-1875)
Portrait of Two Young Men
USD 30,000 - USD 50,000