A Late Billionaire Collector’s Foundation Is Selling Off Artworks by Bill Traylor and Others to Benefit a Harlem Children’s Charity

The William Louise-Dreyfus Foundation is offering the work through Sotheby's, Christie's, and David Zwirner.

Bill Traylor, Brown House With Multiple Figures and Birds (1939–1942). Courtesy of David Zwirner Gallery.
Bill Traylor, Brown House With Multiple Figures and Birds (1939–1942). Courtesy of David Zwirner Gallery.

The William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation is selling works from the late philanthropist’s art collection in a series of sales around New York City to benefit the nonprofit Harlem Children’s Zone. The sales include a trio of paintings by Francisco Toledo at Christie’s New York, works by Bill Traylor at David Zwirner, and a suite of works on paper by Helen Frankenthaler, Claes Oldenburg, and Jean Dubuffet at Sotheby’s New York.

The late billionaire businessman made the decision in 2014 to donate some of the proceeds from the sale of his 3,700-work art collection to the Harlem charity, which provides educational opportunities for inner-city youth. The William Louis-Dreyfus Family Collections is also selling a number of works that the businessman left to his family at Sotheby’s in November, including those by Wassily Kandinsky and Joan Miró, but they will not benefit charity.

“His whole life he was very upset about the social injustice in this country, so the fact that he’s able to address it with this gift is a triumph for him,” Louis-Dreyfus’s daughter, actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, told the New York Times. “It’s really an amazing move that he made at the end of his life. It may be the best thing he ever did.”

In addition to blue-chip artists such as Fernando Botero and Alberto Giacometti, William Louis-Dreyfus—who died in 2016 at the age of 84—was a connoisseur of lesser-known figures like Leonardo Cremonini and George Boorujy, as well as self-taught artists including Thornton Dial and Traylor, a former slave. “William thought self-taught art was visually striking and he didn’t care about the distinction of whether it was mainstream or Outsider,” foundation president Jeffrey Gilman told artnet News. “People characterize the collection as very eclectic, but it was what he liked.”

Francisco Toledo, El Elephante (1978). Courtesy of the William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation.

Francisco Toledo, El Elephante (1978). Courtesy of the William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation.

The foundation was founded with the intention of benefiting the Harlem Children’s Zone, but sales of the collection only began this year. “Our approach to selling is selective because our primary purpose is to be an educational facility,” Gilman said.

The foundation began working with Zwirner in an effort to have Traylor’s work considered within the broader realm of contemporary art, rather than being restricted to Outsider art.

The first painting from the foundation’s collection to come up for sale, Traylor’s Woman Pointing at Man With Cane, broke the artist’s auction record, fetching $396,500—over an estimate of just $40,000—in January at Christie’s New York.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus and William Louis-Dreyfus. Courtesy Getty Images.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus and William Louis-Dreyfus. Courtesy of Getty Images.

Christie’s held a non-selling exhibition of Outsider art from the Louis-Dreyfus collection last September, launching a multi-year collaboration between the foundation and the auction house’s Outsider art department.

The three Toledo works—among 66 in the foundation’s collection—are being offered at Christie’s Latin American art sale on November 20. One of the works could set a new auction record for the artist: El Elefante (1978), an oil-and-sand painting of an elephant that carries a pre-sale estimate of $800,000–1.2 million. (The current top price of $1 million was achieved just last November at Christie’s New York.)

“Toledo just passed away in September, so I think there’s a heightened interest in his work,” said Gilman. The other two Toledo paintings in being sold are Cocodrilos de a montón (1974), estimated at $70,000–90,000, and Máscaras 1-8, Políptico (1965), estimated at $40,000–60,000.


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