A Jewelry Heist Turned Emily Fisher Landau Into a Serious Art Collector. Now, Her Collection Is For Sale.

new york, new york september 11 sotheby rsquo art handlers adjust pablo picasso
Emily Fisher Landau's Collection Heads to AuctionAlexi J. Rosenfeld

The art collection of the late Emily Fisher Landau, one of the most important art patrons and contemporary art collectors in the 20th century, heads to auction with Sotheby's this November. The sale is led by a 1932 Picasso portrait of Marie-These and is expected to sell more than $120 million, crowning it as one of the most important and valuable paintings ever to come to market.

Emily Fisher Landau is a case study for turning a bad thing into something good. In 1969, Landau's apartment in the Imperial House building on the Upper East Side wasburglarized by a group disguised as an air conditioning repairman. They bound the cook in a guest closet and found a floor safe hidden in another closet. The safe encased the jewels Landau accumulated over the years from her husband, Martin Fisher, a real estate developer. Necklaces, earrings, rings, and bracelets made of rubies, sapphires, emeralds, and diamonds were all taken.

new york, new york september 11 sotheby rsquo art handlers adjust pablo picasso
1932 Picasso portrait of Marie-These. Alexi J. Rosenfeld

Though devastated, Landau set her sites on new acquisitions using the settled insurance money: art. It was sort of a reconnection to a longtime passion. She had aspired to be an artist before she was sent to secretarial school and began collecting art informally. Her first piece was a three-and-a-half foot tall Calder Mobile which she took back to her home on the crosstown bus. After the robbery, she fell in love with the modernist works of Josef and Anni Albers, then later bought works by Matisse, Mark Rothko, Paul Klee, and more. Her collection grew to immense heights and eventually found a 25,000 square foot private museum in Long Island City to house her collection in the 1980s.

"Across decades, she amassed a highly personal collection that reflected her commitment to art as well as the artists themselves. A life-long New Yorker, Emily Fisher Landau fully immersed herself in the art world," Lisa Dennison, Chairman, Sotheby’s America, tells T&C. "Guided by her strong conviction, sometimes buying entire shows, she collected works in depth, and the selection of paintings on offer this November features several works by the artist’s she counted as friends, from Warhol to Agnes Martin, Georgia O’Keeffe, Ed Ruscha, among others."

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Willem De Kooning, Untitled XV, 1983, oil on canvas, 80 x 70. courtesy of Sotheby's

Aside from Picasso, a few major lots that are to be offered include a Mark Rothko (1958) which is the first work to be directly related to the famous Seagram murals; one of Jasper John's flags; Andy Warhol self-portraits which were painted a few months before his death in February 1987; and other works by Piet Mondrian, Georgia O' Keefe, and Cy Twombly.

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Andy Warhol, Self Portrait, 1986Courtesy of Sothebys

"Emily Fisher Landau continues a legacy of pioneering women collectors of the 20th century, including Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, and Peggy Guggenheim, among others. Collecting art and supporting arts institutions was one of the attributes that defined her and gave shape to her life," Dennison says.

The Emily Fisher Landau Collection: An Era Defined is on public view from November 1 to November 8 with sales taking place on November 8 and 9. For more information, please visit sothebys.com.

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