Christie’s recently unveiled The Sam Josefowitz Collection, an extraordinary series of auctions set to take place across London, Paris, and New York over the next two years.
Commencing its journey in London on 13 October with “Masterpieces from the Collection of Sam Josefowitz,” this exceptional event marks a significant component of Christie’s Frieze Week program. The Evening Sale promises to transcend boundaries, spanning diverse categories from Antiquities to Post Impressionism, Les Nabis to Giacometti furniture.
This grand collection will extend its reach with three sales in Christie’s Paris, perfectly aligning with Paris + par Art Basel. The ensemble includes an Evening Sale on 20 October, a Day Sale on 21 October, and an exclusive online-only auction available for bidding from 12 to 25 October. The collection comprises over 800 lots, boasting estimates ranging from £500 to a staggering £5 million, with expectations of realizing over £80 million in 2023 and 2024.
Sam Josefowitz: A Polymath and Visionary Entrepreneur
Sam Josefowitz emerges as a remarkable polymath and forward-thinking entrepreneur, whose remarkable life journey significantly enriched the art world. Born in Lithuania in 1921, he embarked on a transcontinental odyssey, relocating with his family to Berlin in 1923, before ultimately settling in Switzerland.
His pursuit of knowledge led him to the United States in 1938, where he pursued a degree in industrial engineering. Post-World War II, Sam, in collaboration with his brother David, founded the Concert Hall Society, a pioneering venture that distributed classical music and jazz records through a subscription mail-order club—a concept ahead of its time. This venture later diversified into book sales, establishing branches across 20 countries worldwide. The success of this enterprise not only afforded Sam the means to amass a magnificent art collection but also enabled him to explore artistic creations spanning more than two millennia from across the globe.
Sam’s life journey saw him traverse continents, moving back to Europe in 1965, where he resided between Switzerland, the United States, and England until his passing in 2015. His residences became hubs for curators, scholars, and collectors, adorned with his ever-expanding collections. His devotion to art was recognized in James Stourton’s “The Great Collectors of Our Time,” and he received the Légion d’honneur from the French Ministry of Culture in 2004 for his outstanding contributions.
The Artistic Tapestry of The Collection
Sam Josefowitz’s collection reflects his insatiable thirst for knowledge. Over six decades, his boundless curiosity and discerning eye for quality prompted him to embrace diverse forms of beauty, history, and numerous cultures, all while focusing on artists and periods that indelibly marked the annals of art history. He displayed equal fascination for the sculptural reliefs of the Ancient Assyrians as he did for the Impressionist canvases of Gustave Caillebotte. His particular admiration for the radical painters of the Pont-Aven School, first encountered at an exhibition in Paris in 1955, epitomizes his eclectic tastes.
His commitment extended to the art of printmaking, leading to the formation of an unparalleled collection of Old Master prints, with Rembrandt taking centre stage. The collection, built through astute acquisitions, included works obtained from renowned dealers and direct purchases from the friends and family of artists. Sam forged personal connections with artists, commissioning works from the likes of Kees van Dongen and Diego Giacometti. His foresight in collecting movements and periods ahead of their recognition added another layer to his legacy. Sam also actively contributed to the art world by periodically selling or donating to museums, ensuring his collection reached audiences worldwide.
Exploring the Pont-Aven School
Sam Josefowitz’s transformative encounter with the Bonnard, Vuillard, and the Nabis exhibition at the Musée national d’art moderne in Paris in 1955 propelled him to Pont-Aven in Brittany, where these artists once lived and worked. This pivotal visit reshaped his collecting trajectory, solidifying his passion for the Pont-Aven School. Over the years, Sam established profound connections with the families and friends of these artists, amassing a comprehensive archive that would later prove invaluable to scholars and curators. This archive was generously donated to the Musée de Pont-Aven in 1985.
His ardour for the Pont-Aven movement manifested in rapid collection growth. By the time of the Tate’s 1966 exhibition ‘Paul Gauguin and the Pont-Aven Group,’ Sam had lent an astounding 38 of the 320 loans featured. In 1998, he furthered his contribution by partially gifting over 100 Pont-Aven works to the Indianapolis Museum of Art. His collection embarked on a global journey with touring exhibitions, gracing over 20 museums, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Royal Academy of Arts in London.
The Enigmatic World of Rembrandt
Sam’s fascination with Rembrandt engravings had an unexpected genesis during a flight from Paris to Geneva, where he met Ira Gale, a dealer specializing in works by Rembrandt and Albrecht Dürer. This serendipitous encounter led to an enduring passion for Rembrandt prints, culminating in the formation of a post-war collection that became a touchstone for collectors, scholars, and curators alike.
One of the prized pieces, the Self-Portrait etching at a Window (1648, estimate: £80,000-120,000), will be a highlight in the “Masterpieces from the Collection of Sam Josefowitz: A Lifetime of Discovery and Scholarship” event on 13 October, with more works slated for the Old Masters Evening Sale and a dedicated Rembrandt Sale on 7 December in London during Classic Week.
Legacy of Discovery and Scholarship
Sam Josefowitz’s legacy transcends collecting; he was a scholar and an explorer captivated by the enchanting stories that art could tell. While not formally trained as an art historian, his innate intelligence fueled an insatiable quest for knowledge across his varied collections.
From deciphering the intricacies of print states to unearthing scattered information about the Pont-Aven artists with limited publications, Sam’s commitment to understanding and sharing art knew no bounds. He generously loaned paintings, prints, and sculptures to museum exhibitions worldwide and actively supported research and scholarship, ensuring that his collection continued to inspire and educate generations to come.
The Sam Josefowitz Collection is not merely a remarkable assemblage of art; it is a testament to the boundless curiosity, unerring vision, and profound passion of a true connoisseur, Sam Josefowitz. This extraordinary collection, spanning centuries and continents, reveals an intricate tapestry of artistic expression and cultural appreciation. Sam’s legacy is not confined to the walls of galleries but extends to the hearts and minds of those who encounter his cherished treasures.
Through his commitment to discovery, scholarship, and the sharing of art, Sam Josefowitz leaves an indelible mark on the art world. As we eagerly anticipate the forthcoming auctions, we are reminded that his enduring legacy continues to inspire, educate, and enrich the world of art for generations to come.