Van Goghing, Going, Gone

Fort Worth's Bass family auctions $120 million collection of masterpiece art

Fort Worth's Bass family auctions $120 million collection of art

Van Gogh, Bass art
Laboureur dans un champ, 1889, Vincent Van Gogh. Estimated value: Upon request only. Photo courtesy of Christie's
Matisse_The Regattas in Nice
Les régates de Nice, 1921, Henri Matisse. Estimated value: $12 million-$18 million. Photo courtesy of Christie's
Pisarro_Close to the Pond, Kew gardens
Close to The Pond, Kew Gardens, Camille Pisarro. Estimated value: $3 million-$5 million. Photo courtesy of Christie's
Pisarro_Tuileries Garden, Gray Morning
Tuileries Garden, Gray Morning, Camille Pisarro. Estimated value: $1.5 million-$2 million. Photo courtesy of Christie's
Edouard Vuillard_Yvonne Printemps in an Armchair, Bass art collection
Printemps in an Armchair, Edouard Vuillard Yvonne. Estimated value: $9 million-$1.2 million. Photo courtesy of Christie's
Maillol_Bather with raised arms, Bass art
 Bather with raised arns, Aristide Maillol. Estimated value: $1.2 million-$1.8 million.  Photo courtesy of Christie's
Chagall Rainbow Circus, Bass art
The Rainbow Circus, Marc Chagall. Estimated value: $1.5 million-$2 million. Photo courtesy of Christie's
Renoir_Young Girl combing her hair
Young Girl Combing Her Hair, Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Estimated value: $2.5 million-$3.5 million.  Photo courtesy of Christie's
Miro from Collection of Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass
 Painting, Joan Miro. Estimate value: $18 million-$25 million. Photo courtesy of Kimbell Art Museum
Basses watercolor, Bass art collection
Portrait of Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass, Scott Gentling, 1998. (Not for auction.) Photo courtesy of Christie's
Van Gogh, Bass art
Matisse_The Regattas in Nice
Pisarro_Close to the Pond, Kew gardens
Pisarro_Tuileries Garden, Gray Morning
Edouard Vuillard_Yvonne Printemps in an Armchair, Bass art collection
Maillol_Bather with raised arms, Bass art
Chagall Rainbow Circus, Bass art
Renoir_Young Girl combing her hair
Miro from Collection of Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass
Basses watercolor, Bass art collection

Fort Worth's billionaire Bass family is selling a private collection of 36 art masterworks valued at more than $120 million.

The collection of philanthropists Perry R. and Nancy Lee Bass will be auctioned through Christie's in New York on November 13 and 15. The lot includes works by some of the greatest artists in history, including Vincent Van Gogh, Henri Matisse, Camille Pisarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Marc Chagall, and Mark Rothko.

Several of the works hung in the Kimbell Art Museum as part of a major exhibition in 2015; the museum recently returned the Bass-owned works to the family.

"Quietly assembled over 40 years and comprising the best of Impressionist, Modern and Post-War art, the collection is led by five museum-quality masterworks," says Max Carter, Christie's New York-based head of Department of Impressionist and Modern Art in a release.

Leading the collection is Van Gogh’s Laboureur dans un champ, which Carter calls "the finest landscape by the artist to appear at auction in years." The 1889 oil on canvas is significant for several reasons, including that it marked the first time Van Gogh handled his brushes after being removed from his studio by the doctors at an asylum following a devastating psychological episode. Christie's is not releasing an estimated value of the work.

Carter notes that other museum-quality pieces in the collection include:

  • Kees van Dongen’s Portrait de Madame Malpel, "among the artist’s most celebrated and widely reproduced paintings" (estimate: $7 million-$10 million).
  • Henri Matisse’s "marvel of Mediterranean light," Les régates de Nice (estimate: $12 million-$18 million).
  • Joan Miró’s "monumental" Peinture, "one of 18 pivotal Collage Paintings, more than 10 of which hang in major museums" (estimate: $18 million-$25 million).
  • Mark Rothko’s "luminous, high-keyed" Untitled, from 1969 (estimate: $10 million-$15 million).

The Basses were drawn to Impressionism, Fauvism, Surrealism, and Abstract Expressionism — above all, to strong and expressive color, auction organizers say.

“A collection born with enthusiasm,” said son Sid Bass in a release, “became a lifetime of pleasure and joy.”

In addition to longstanding relationships with Fort Worth museums, Nancy Bass was also involved with the Collector’s Committee of the National Gallery of Art. In Washington, the Basses endowed a fund that has enabled works by PostWar and Contemporary artists to enter the National Gallery’s permanent collection. 

Perry Bass died in 2006, and Nancy, in 2013.

The most substantial grouping of works will lead Christie's specially retitled "Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale Including The Collection of Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass" on November 13-14. Highlights will also be included in the "Evening Sale of Post-War and Contemporary Art" on November 15-16. Highlights of the collection have had showings in London and Hong Kong.