S.I. Newhouse Jr.’s Collection of Modern Masters Comes to Christie’s

In the salad days of his art collecting, back in the 1960s, the magazine publisher S.I. Newhouse Jr. started out modestly, at one point paying the dealer Betty Parsons on an installment plan.

His purchasing ramped up quickly from there, and Mr. Newhouse, the Condé Nast owner who died in 2017 at 89, eventually used his billions to amass a large collection of blue-chip modern and contemporary art.

“He had the best eye and the best collection of postwar paintings ever put together,” said his friend David Geffen, the entertainment mogul, who added, “I bought a lot of it.”

The fact that Mr. Newhouse was willing to part with well-known works by the likes of Jasper Johns and Willem de Kooning for the right price illustrates the fact that the collector, known as Si, was never overly sentimental about his trove. He was always happy to trade up or cash out.

Now his family is following suit, selling 11 big-ticket works at Christie’s New York, spread over two evening sales in May. The auction house estimates that the group is worth some $130 million. (Last November, the family sold a Francis Bacon work, “Study of Henrietta Moraes Laughing,” which brought $21.7 million at Christie’s in Manhattan.)

“I’m a firm believer that we will have a record for Koons,” said Alex Rotter, the chairman of postwar and contemporary art at Christie’s, which is sending a selection of the Newhouse works on tour, beginning this week in Asia to coincide with Art Basel Hong Kong.

Rounding out the top Newhouse lots are Vincent van Gogh’s “Trees in the Garden of the Asylum” (1889), estimated around $25 million; Roy Lichtenstein’s “Landscape with Boats” (1996), $7 million to $9 million; Andy Warhol’s “Little Electric Chair” (1964—65), $6 million to $8 million; and Lucian Freud’s “Painter’s Garden” (2003), $4 million to $6 million.

Works from the collection by Giorgio Morandi, Richard Prince, Alberto Giacometti and Edgar Degas are also going on the block.

“Once he made up his mind, he was not in doubt,” Mr. Meyer said.

He noted that the collection was hardly being depleted by the sale.

“They’re selling a fraction of the collection, and Victoria is still buying,” Mr. Meyer said, referring to Mr. Newhouse’s widow.

Mr. Newhouse was something of a legend on the auction scene. When he wasn’t overseeing a magazine empire that included Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Vogue and many other publications, he was frequently on the hunt for art, usually bidding by phone.

“Si said to me that he always gets what he wants because he will not stop bidding,” Mr. Geffen recalled. “We competed for a number of pictures, and he always won.”

The friendship did yield some benefits for Mr. Geffen, who called Mr. Newhouse a mentor. He said that he bought some 20 artworks from Mr. Newhouse over the years, including paintings by Lichtenstein and de Kooning.

Those who saw the collection in situ came away impressed. “Their apartment was all about the art,” Mr. Rotter said. “The art wasn’t hanging there as decoration — it was the essence of the place.”

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