A Key Impeachment Witness, Gordon Sondland Is Also a ‘Lover of Art.’ Here’s What We Know About His Multimillion-Dollar Art Collection

The diplomat and wealthy hotelier owns a collection valued at up to $25 million.

Gordon Sondland, the U.S ambassador to the European Union, testifies before the House Intelligence Committee. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.
Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, testifies before the House Intelligence Committee. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

On day four of the Donald Trump impeachment proceedings in Washington, DC, Gordon Sondland, the Republican mega-donor and US ambassador to the European Union, delivered bombshell testimony saying that President Trump was directly involved in putting pressure on Ukraine to investigate his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.

“Everyone was in the loop,” Sondland told investigators.

Now, as details about Sondland’s background come to light, his long history as an art collector and museum patron is coming into focus.

In a video introducing himself as the US envoy to the EU, Sondland, a hotelier whose fortune is estimated to be between $78 million and $125 million, describes himself as “a lover of art.” He adds that he has assembled a “wonderful collection” with his wife, Katherine Durant, a real estate developer. 

According to financial disclosures provided by Sondland to the US State Department, his art collection, which is held in Oregon, Washington, and California, is valued at between $5 million and $25 million.  

A Patron of the Arts

In 1999, Sondland and his wife founded the Sondland Durant Foundation, which supports organizations including the Portland Art Museum, where Durant is a board member. Sondland, who served as a museum board member from 1996 to 2012, was also the board chair from 2009 to 2011.

In addition to the sponsorship of a gallery of Pacific Northwest art that bears their name, the couple also donated a $1 million gift to the museum to endow a free admissions program for children 17 and under. The couple have given nearly $2.4 million to the museum in total.

“Both [Katy and Gordon] have been generous with their time and financial support over many years, for which we are grateful,” a museum spokesperson tells Artnet News.

Asked in 2016 by the Portland Business Journal what prompted the gift to endow the free admissions program, Sondland said: “A lot of people would say, ‘do I want to spend $200 to go to the art museum, or do I want to go to a great movie or a great concert, or what have you?’ Katy and I did not want that to have to be a choice.”

Sondland and Durant’s foundation is also a major donor to Seattle’s Frye Art Museum, to which the couple donated $375,000 between 2012 and 2017. Sondland’s mother, Frieda, also curated an exhibition for the museum in 2012 of highlights from its founding collection. The foundation supported the publication of the exhibition’s catalogue. After Frieda died in 2016, the museum’s cafe was named in her honor.

The foundation also supports the Museum of Pop Culture and the Museum of History and Industry, both in Seattle; and the Oregon Ballet Theatre and the Oregon Museum of Science and History, both in Portland, according to the foundation’s website. 

 

A Look at Sondland’s Collecting History

Sondland began collecting art as a teenager. “My sister and her husband were some of the pioneer collectors, particularly of Northwest Art. When notable dealers such as Arlene Schnitzer started the Fountain Gallery in Portland, [they] became early and large patrons,” Sondland told the Portland Business Journal in 2016.

“That really inspired me. Even as a teenager, I began to buy works from unknown artists that I could afford, some of which were only a few hundred dollars. And then as my income and my tastes began to change, I began to ramp up, and now Katy and I, as we travel around the world, we gravitate to things we like. We don’t buy to decorate a room. We buy great pieces and if there’s no place to put them, they go into storage until there is a place to put them.”

Concerning his tastes, Sondland said he likes a “little bit of everything” because “you react to different mediums differently.” His added that his collection includes a wide range of styles. “Figurative. Impressionist. Contemporary. We have glass. We have sculpture.”

The couple also lend works to museums and to the 11 Provenance Hotels Sondland owns as part of his hotel chain. Each location displays artworks inspired by Pacific Northwest cultures. Artnet News reached out to all 11 hotels to ask about their collections, but did not hear back by press time.

In the Portland Business Journal interview, Sondland also mentions loaning two works to the White House for eight years, which Oregon Public Broadcasting reports happened during the presidency of George W. Bush. Artnet News reached out to Bush’s office to confirm, but did not hear back by press time.

“Any dealer who says, ‘you have to buy it now or it’s going to be gone,’ I generally won’t do business with,” Sondland said in the 2016 interview. “I try to go back and visit it again because, in different moods, art interacts with you differently. And I might be in a manic mood, I might be in a great mood, I might walk in and look at the painting and say, ‘I want to buy that.’ But then the next day, I’ll go and look at the same painting and say, ‘what was I thinking? It doesn’t inspire me.'”

Sondland was appointed to his ambassadorial position in 2018, after he gave nearly $1 million to Trump’s inauguration committee.


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