Christie’s and Sotheby’s Are Competing to Land the Estate of Emily Fisher Landau, Whose Collection Could Fetch Up to $500 Million

With the art market in a downturn, the late collector's estate is an attractive prize for both auction houses.

Emily Fisher Landau with her portrait by Andy Warhol in 2009. Photo by Billy Farrell, ©Patrick McMullan.

As the major auction houses look ahead to their blockbuster November evening sales, Christie’s and Sotheby’s are both vying to secure the estate of Emily Fisher Landau, the noted art collector who died in March at the age of 102.

Whichever house lands the Fisher Landau estate will be hoping the collection—which ARTnews reports could rake in between $375 million and $500 million—will help make up for a lackluster first half for auction results. In May, one of the season’s most-anticipated auctions, of the estate of collector Gerald Fineberg at Christie’s New York, totaled just $153 million, compared to an estimate of $163 million to $235 million.

The Big Three auction houses—Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Phillips—have seen a 51 percent dip in total sales year-over-year, as reported by the Artnet Intelligence Report. Christie’s sales dropped 23 percent, from $4.1 billion to $3.2 billion, between June and January, while Phillips clocked in at just $453 million for the same period, 39 percent less than the $746 million it brought in the first six months of 2022.

As of press time, neither Christie’s nor Sotheby’s had responded to inquiries from Artnet News.

Jasper Johns, Flags (1986). Collection of Emily Fisher Landau. ©Jasper Johns.

Jasper Johns, Flags (1986). Collection of Emily Fisher Landau. ©Jasper Johns.

Fisher Landau credited her entree into the world of fine art collecting to the 1969 art robbery of her Upper East Side apartment. The thieves, disguised as air conditioning repairmen, made off with her valuable jewelry collection. But instead of replacing her diamonds, emeralds, and rubies, Fisher Landau used the insurance money to begin what would become one of the premiere contemporary art collections of the U.S.

Among the artists in the collection were Mark Rothko, Georgia O’Keeffe, Cy Twombly, and Andy Warhol, who famously did a silk screen portrait of Fisher Landau.

Her holdings eventually numbered 1,500 works, many of which were for years on view to the public at the Fisher Landau Center for Art, which she opened in a former parachute factory in Long Island City, Queens, in 1991. Suffering from Alzheimer’s disease in her later years, Fisher Landau closed the private museum in 2017.

An influential trustee at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art for close to a quarter century, Fisher Landau made a major donation of 367 works to the institution in 2010. Said at the time to be worth $50 million to $75 million, the gift featured art by Jasper Johns, William Eggleston, Ed Ruscha, Robert Rauschenberg, and James Rosenquist, among other artists.

Pablo Picasso, <em>Femme à la montre (Woman With a Watch)</em>, 1932. Collection of Emily Fisher Landau.

Pablo Picasso, Femme à la montre (Woman With a Watch), 1932. Collection of Emily Fisher Landau.

Last year, Fisher Landau loaned works by the likes of Piet Mondrian, Robert Indiana, Willem de Kooning, Glenn Ligon, and Agnes Martin for a special exhibition at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, near her home in Palm Beach.

Among the expected highlights of any Fisher Landau auction will be a major Pablo Picasso work, Femme à la montre (Woman With a Watch), from 1932. (That’s considered the artist’s “annus mirabilis,” and even inspired a 2018 show at London’s Tate Modern.) Two of his works from that year hit the auction block in recent years, with Femme nue couchée selling for $67.5 million at Sotheby’s New York in 2022, and Femme assise près d’une fenêtre (Marie-Thérèse), 30 October 1932 fetching $103.4 million at Christie’s New York in 2021.

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