The Collection of Mrs. John L. Marion Is Anchored by Post-War American Masterpieces that Speak to Anne’ Marion’’s Extraordinary Life and Work
The private collection of visionary philanthropist, renowned art collector, and legendary Texan Anne Marion (1938-2020) will be unveiled for the first time at Sotheby’s this spring. Widely celebrated throughout her lifetime, both for her generous support of cultural institutions, critical contributions to education and healthcare and for her passion for the life and traditions of the American Southwest where her family had been rooted for generations, Mrs. John L. Marion held a fabled status among art lovers and ranchers alike. And yet, despite the public-facing nature of her support for so many leading American museums, the treasures of Mrs. John L. Marion’s own private collection have remained – until now – largely unknown. Sotheby’s forthcoming exhibition and sale of that collection will therefore represent, for many, the first opportunity to appreciate the exceptional caliber and scope of the collection of a woman who – whether for art, horses, or business – had ‘a keen eye and a sense for picking winners.’
Centered on an exceptional group of works by leading names of American post-war art that together represent some of the most significant art historical innovations of the Twentieth Century, Mrs. John L. Marion’s collection is estimated in the region of $150 million, making it the most significant collection to come to auction for years. At its heart are masterworks by three of the greatest American artists of the post-War period, each executed at the apex of their respective careers: Andy Warhol’s iconic Elvis 2 Times, Richard Diebenkorn’s sublime Ocean Park No. 40; and Clyfford Still’s staggering PH-125 (1948-No. 1). All three works are estimated to achieve in excess of $20 million.
Amy Cappellazzo, Chairman of Sotheby’s Global Fine Arts Division, said: “Anne Marion was a true art collector and had an eye for quality. She was brave in everything she did, from her choice of artwork to her sense of design and color. Unpretentious and proud of her rancher legacy and lifestyle, Anne was a bold-hearted Texan through-and-through.”
Michael Macaulay, Sotheby’s Senior Vice President and Senior International Specialist for Contemporary Art, said: “Mrs. Marion’s extraordinary collection not only embodies critical innovations of twentieth-century American Art History, notably uniting paragons of Abstract Expressionism with original icons of Pop Art but it also singularly reflects a simply remarkable life. While Still and Diebenkorn’s soaring canvases evoke the enduring landscapes of her family’s storied ranches; Warhol’s legendary depiction of Elvis as cowboy alludes to a lifetime devoted to the stewardship of Southwestern traditions. She was a true visionary, and her collection is testament to an extraordinary eye, boundless energy, and limitless spirit of inquiry.”
Hugh Hildesley, who joined Sotheby’s in 1961 and played an integral role in the company’s formative years in the US, was a longstanding colleague of Sotheby’s eminent Chairman and auctioneer John L. Marion, Anne’s husband for the last 32 years of her life. In fact, it was Hugh – the only ordained fine art auctioneer in the world – who presided over their marriage. He remembers: “The sheer scope of Anne’s astounding achievements will prove influential and transformative for generations to come: from her role as President of the Burnett Foundation to founding the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum; donor of the Marion Emergency Care Center in Fort Worth, to tireless Trustee of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Kimbell Art Museum and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Anne knew quality when she saw it, and that was never truer than when she first met John. For more than three decades they together forged a legendary partnership, which was to the art world’s supreme advantage. That legend represents one of the great treasures in my 60 years of Sotheby’s history.”
Mrs. John L. Marion: Rancher & Businesswoman
Mrs. John L. Marion’s story was as remarkable as the art she collected. Born into a legendary Texas ranching family, she was the great-granddaughter of Captain Samuel Burk Burnett (1849-1922) and heiress to the historic, world-renowned Four Sixes Ranch in King County, Texas.
On his death, Samuel took the unusual step of willing the bulk of his estate to his 22-year-old granddaughter, ‘Big Anne’, to be held in trust for her unborn child (the future ‘Little Anne’ Marion), thereby launching the tradition of female leadership of one of Texas’ greatest family businesses. Following her mother’s death in 1980, ‘Little Anne’ took over management of the business and would run it for the next forty years.
The ranch was celebrated for its Black Angus cattle and winning quarter horses, and thanks to oil strikes there, the family’s wealth grew. President Theodore Roosevelt, famous Western actors, and many other illustrious figures were regular visitors to Four Sixes. Yet, like her great-grandfather – who, in spite of having built himself ‘the finest ranch house in Texas’, always chose to sleep in the backroom of the supply house – Mrs. John L. Marion remained firmly rooted in the realities of her family ranch and their businesses.
She herself learned from the cowboys on her ranch how to ride and work cattle and was a fierce pioneering advocate of cowboys’ employment rights, being one of the first in the ranching industry to provide her staff with health insurance and retirement plans. Mrs. John L. Marion never forgot the impact of her upbringing, her time with cowboys, and her love of ranch-life, recalling “The most important thing that ever happened to me was growing up on that ranch. It kept my feet on the ground more than anything else.”
Mrs. John L. Marion was not only inducted into the Texas Business Hall of Fame but also the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame (2005), the Great Hall of Westerners (2009), and the Great Women of Texas (2003); following her death, she was honored with an extended cattle drive in Fort Worth – attended by cowboys from all the region’s leading ranches. In the words of President George W. Bush following her passing: “She was a true Texan, a great patron of the arts, a generous member of our community, and a person of elegance and strength. Texans have lost a patriot, and Laura and I have lost a friend.”
Over the course of her life, Mrs. John L. Marion donated many works to museums and oversaw, through her charitable foundation, the distribution of more than $600 million worth of grants to a variety of institutions and causes, many of them in her native Texas. She was a trusted board director and benefactor of the Kimbell Art Museum for four decades, and a trustee of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She was also a principal benefactor of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and the driving force behind its $65 million expansion, selecting Tadao Ando as architect for its new home, which opened to high acclaim in 2002. Very fittingly for such a dynamic and successful woman in her own right, Mrs. John L. Marion founded, together with her husband John, America’s first museum dedicated to a female artist – Georgia O’Keeffe – in Santa Fe.
Continuing Mrs. John L. Marion’s unwavering lifelong dedication to philanthropy and decades-long commitment to cultural patronage, a number of major additional works from her collection will be gifted to the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, and to the Kimbell Art Museum, further details of which will be announced at a later date.
While the heart of the Collection is devoted to giants of twentieth-century American art – Warhol, Still, Diebenkorn, Kline, Motherwell, Lichtenstein, Hofmann, Francis, Noland, Louis and many more – it also spans Old Masters (all of which were displayed in Mrs. John L. Marion’s palazzo-like home in In Indian Wells), Jewelry, and a sensational abstract by Gerhard Richter. The sale of the Collection of Mrs. John L. Marion will launch with an 18-lot dedicated evening auction in New York in May.
AMERICAN VISIONARY: THE COLLECTION OF MRS. JOHN L MARION
The masterworks that formed Mrs. John L. Marion’s Collection took pride of place within the Marions’ Fort Worth, Texas home. Commissioned by her mother (Anne Burnett Tandy), their home was the first of only three private houses ever designed by I.M. Pei, the architect of the Louvre Pyramid, the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar, and many other major public buildings.
Clyfford Still’s masterwork PH-125 (1948-No. 1) bears witness to one of the critical watersheds of twentieth-century Art History: the birth of the Abstract Expressionist movement. Painted when the artist was a highly influential professor at the California School of Fine Arts, this work epitomizes Still’s pioneering endeavor to establish a new aesthetic school defined by an emphasis on the unbound scope and a rejection of representational instincts.
Like Mrs. John L. Marion, Still also came from, and celebrated, the vast expanses of rural America. Born in North Dakota, the land and the people of the Midwest had been the subjects of his early work, and the grandeur and awe-inspired by the landscapes that surrounded him were an enduring influence. Though determinedly abstract, his epic mature paintings are often likened to his contemporary Ansel Adams’ stark photographs of the heroic American landscape; and in its golden palette and craggy composition Still’s painting is powerfully evocative of the abiding topographies of the Four Sixes ranch.
Perhaps the most famous depiction of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll by the Prince of Pop Art, Warhol’s 1963 Elvis 2 Times represents a watershed moment in twentieth-century Art History. The painting combines an investigation of the uniquely American fascination with celebrity and mass media that emerged in the 1960s with an unsettling visual evocation of both violence and desire. For the compulsive movie-fan Warhol, Elvis as the reluctant gunslinger presented the zenith of subject matter: ultimate celebrity invested with ultimate power.
The relevance of this work in Mrs. John L. Marion‘s collection is self-evident: the voice behind ‘Lonesome Cowboy’, and the star of three major Western movies, Elvis became an embodiment of the cowboy ideal. The source image for this particular work was a publicity still for his acclaimed 1960 movie Flaming Star, in which Elvis plays the character Pacer Burton, the son of a Texan father working as a rancher on the frontier. Texas was also a place that was close to the heart of the real Elvis, who spent a significant amount of time there, performing no fewer than 138 times between 1954-1977.
Richard Diebenkorn’s seven-foot-tall Ocean Park No. 40 from 1971 displays all the hallmarks of the artist at the height of his genius as a colorist and compositional innovator, and is a testament to his illustrious place in the canon of American abstract art. In 1966, Diebenkorn had moved to the Ocean Park section of Santa Monica to take up a teaching position at the University of California, Los Angeles. The juxtaposition of sunlight, ocean air, and open expanses of beach with the harsh geometries of nearby streets and buildings had an enduring effect on the artist, providing a catalyst for the Ocean Park series and what would become the artist’s most substantial contribution to the trajectory of twentieth-century American art.
Richard Diebenkorn was also part of Georgia O’Keeffe’s Modernist circle. Six years after Mrs. John L. Marion founded the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, a Museum Research Center was opened there to examine the work of O’Keeffe and her contemporaries, including Diebenkorn who features large.
Girl with Beach Ball II hails from the height of Roy Lichtenstein’s celebrated Surrealist period and references a diverse range of artists, periods, and masterpieces: Salvador Dalí, Giorgio de Chirico, Max Ernst, and Pablo Picasso.
Lichtenstein had first embarked on the woman with the beach ball motif in 1961, and the series represents the artist’s inventive mind at the creative apex of his extraordinary career. Its sister painting Girl with Beach Ball III is housed in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. – and other examples of the Surrealist paintings from 1977 and 1978 are held in collections such as the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Held in Mrs. John L. Marion’s collection for nearly four decades, Franz Kline’s Mister emerges as an irrefutable masterwork of the artist’s extraordinary oeuvre. Painted in 1959 during Kline’s most revered stylistic period, this work announces the artist’s sophisticated brand of Action Painting on a monumental scale and is one of the most strikingly confident compositions of his output.
Drawing on both the New York skyline and the landscape of his childhood in a rural coal-mining community in Pennsylvania, Kline’s abstractions represent an internalized response to the gritty and urban environments of his life.
AMERICAN VISIONARY: FINE JEWELS FROM THE COLLECTION OF MRS. JOHN L. MARION
In addition to a dedicated auction for Mrs. John L. Marion’s fine art collection, Sotheby’s will also hold a dedicated online sale of her superb jewelry. As with the masterworks of 20th century American art she acquired with her husband, Mrs. John L. Marion’s appreciation for American-made design extends to her jewelry collection, boasting signature pieces by Verdura, Andrew Clunn, and most notably, David Webb. Color abounds with turquoise, tourmaline, and aquamarine appearing alongside sapphires, emeralds, and rubies in highly sculptural gold mountings. Mrs. John L. Marion’s jewels are a rich reflection of her bold personality, both strong in presence and style, acting as the perfect complement to her role as influential hostess and philanthropist.