ECONOMY

An Oil Baron’s Art Collection Will Be Auctioned for an Estimated $200 Million

In the mid 1970s, Edwin Cox embarked on a brief, intense art collecting spree with his wife Ann.

“The majority of his collection was put together in less than 10 years,” says Adrien Meyer, the global head of private sales and co-chairman of Impressionist and modern art at Christie’s. “His major supplier was the Wildenstein Gallery, which in the ‘70s was probably at its peak as a business as a provider of masterpieces.” 

Important paintings by Monet, Cézanne, van Gogh, Vuillard, and Redon were swept up and sent to the Cox’s Dallas home, where they remained for nearly 40 years.

Now, a year after Cox’s death, 25 of these artworks will go to auction in a single-owner sale in November at Christie’s, carrying a total estimate in excess of $200 million.

When the collection hits the auction block, it will be one of the first major single-owner sales since the pandemic began; others, notably the joint collection of real estate billionaire Harry Macklowe and his now-ex-wife Linda Macklowe, have remained on the sidelines until market volatility subsides.

“We had thoughtful discussions with Cox’s family and advisers about the right timing for the sale,” says Bonnie Brennan, president of the Americas at Christie’s. “We feel confident the demand is there.”

Cox, who died at 99, was the chairman and chief executive officer of his investment company, the Edwin L. Cox Co., and the former chair of Cox Oil & Gas Inc.

Over the course of his business career, he also served on the boards of Gillette Co., Halliburton, and several others, and was once chairman of Keebler Co., where, under his leadership, Brennan says, the Keebler elves were introduced. 

When Cox and his wife began to acquire art, “they focused on Impressionist art,” says Brennan. “They were truly enthusiastic collectors.”

With outposts in Paris, London, and New York, the gallery was famous for ferreting out rare, high-quality artworks in private collections, then squirreling them away until the right buyer came along.

Cox, Meyer says, “was quick to figure this out.” In short order, he put himself in a position where he was, Meyer continues, “offered the right of first refusal, a position which allowed him to get the very best.” 

The result is a collection in which several works had changed hands only once or twice before they came into Cox’s possession.

The top lot of the sale is an 1876 painting by Gustave Caillebotte, an artist probably best known for the iconic 1877 work Paris Street; Rainy Day, which is in the permanent collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. 

Cox’s painting, Jeune homme à sa fenêtre, “had been gifted to one family [by Caillebotte] and remained with that family until 1951, when Wildenstein bought it,” Meyer says. “Caillebotte was one of the first painters to break the boundaries of Impressionism, even though he was part of the Impressionist group. It was probably one of the most innovative paintings of that time.”

Another one of the top lots, a Cézanne landscape from 1883-85, is estimated from $35 million to $55 million. It was purchased by Cox in 1978.

That work had also stayed in just one family’s collection, Meyer says, until it was acquired by the Wildensteins in 1970. Painted in L’Estaque, then a village down the coast from Marseilles on the French Riviera, it is, Meyer says, “an extraordinary picture—one of the best in that series” of paintings Cézanne produced during his time in the village. 

The third major work in the sale is a strikingly colorful landscape by van Gogh from 1889, which Christie’s has estimated in the region of $40 million. “Interestingly enough, it was painted just a few miles away from where the Cézanne was painted,” Meyer says.

Cox purchased the work in 1982 from Wildenstein. Its several owners had included the famous French art collector Georges Renand, an early collector of Bonnard, Cezanne, van Gogh, and others.

From 10 to 12 works from Cox’s collection, representing what Meyer says is “close to 90% of the value of the collection,” are set to tour Taipei, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and London later this year, which should indicate where Christie’s considers the works’ likely collectors to be.

But the collection, Brennan says, “is truly an American story,” in which Cox, who had “a great entrepreneurial spirit and made great choices in business,” took the same approach to buying art.

“We haven’t seen a collection of this quality in so many seasons,” she says. “The market will be ready.”

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