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A Tribute to Art Collector Roy R. Neuberger (1903-2010)

A Collector of Modern and Contemporary Art

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Roy R. Neuberger at 105

Roy R. Neuberger at 105 at the Neuberger Museum of Art gala "The Passionate Collector." The Museum celebrated his 105th birthday in 2008.

Image courtesy of Harrison Edwards Public Relations

Date and Place of Birth:

July 21, 1903, Bridgeport, Connecticut

Life:

The American art collector Roy Rothschild Neuberger died on Christmas Eve 2010 in the Pierre Hotel, his New York residence. He was 107. Almost a mirror-image of the French painter Paul Gauguin, he briefly studied art in Paris in the late 1920s, then gave up in favor of amassing a fortune as a stockbroker in order to pursue his passion for collecting art. (Gauguin was a stockbroker first, then a collector and finally a full-time artist.)

Neuberger's autobiography, So Far, So Good - The First 94 Years (1997) begins with "When I was born, Teddy Roosevelt was president, the Wright brothers were preparing for their epic flight and the first automobile trip across the United States (from San Francisco to New York) was underway." Direct and plain-spoken, So Far, So Good outlines the key ingredients for financial and personal success: hard work, open-minded research, focus, drive, connections and aiming for the top without losing sight of those who helped in the process.

Neuberger came from an affluent family. He was the youngest of three children and orphaned at 12 years old. His sister Ruth (12 years his senior) became his guardian. She married in 1919 and her husband Aaron Potter, a businessman, became an influential father figure.

After boarding school, public school and one semester at New York University, Neuberger parlayed himself into his first job at the major department store B. Altman and Company by making an appointment with a fellow former Bridgeport resident, Milton Klein, who was the vice president. It was 1922 and Neuberger was only 19.The future financial wizard literally started in the basement, in the Receiving Department, and soon impressed the head of interior decorating when an imported shipment needed special attention. This encounter landed Neuberger a position in the interior decorating department where he ended up as the upholstery buyer the next year.

Savvy Altman colleagues provided cultural mentoring.They took Neuberger to art galleries, the theater and the opera. He also received training in practical business management, including innovative customer relations and merchandising ideas. The experience served him well when he moved into the financial world later on.

The department store magnate Benjamin Altman (1840-1913) and his business partner Michael Friedsam (1858-1931) were avid art collectors and important donors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art during the first half of the twentieth century. Neuberger would become a powerful patron of the arts during the second half of the twentieth century, and was given an "Honorary Trustee" position with the Met in 1968.

During his 1924 vacation from Altman's, Neuberger took his first trip to Paris. In 1925 he returned to the City of Lights and stayed for the next four years. He read, studied art at the Louvre and befriended numerous writers, artists and art historians (such as Columbia's Meyer Schapiro). Then he discovered Florent Fels' new biography of Vincent van Gogh, which "changed" his life. Deeply moved by this tragic story of an under-appreciated genius, Neuberger decided that supporting emerging artists would be his calling. He left Paris determined to amass a fortune on Wall Street ("where the money is") and collect art.

Neuberger's family connections got him into Jerome Dantzig's office at Bear Stearns in 1929, just before the crash. Dantzig recommended Neuberger to the brokerage firm Halle and Stieglitz. The young stockbroker honed his skills for ten years and then created his own asset management firm Neuberger and Berman with fellow H and S broker Robert Bennett Berman. Neuberger and Berman was sold to Lehman Brothers in 2003 (after Neuberger's 100th birthday) and then survived the 2008 collapse of Lehman by being sold back to the management firm.

Roy R. Neuberger's legacy remains firmly entrenched in the art world through his collection, generous donations and the Neuberger Museum of Art located on the campus of the State University of New York at Purchase (a.k.a. Purchase College). "The Neuberger" (or NMA) was the brainchild of Neuberger's close friend Nelson Rockefeller, a fellow Westchester County resident and passionate collector of contemporary art, as well as the governor of New York from 1959 to 1973. Neuberger donated 850 pieces. Today the museum owns over 6,000 works of art.

The museum's permanent collection features the Abstraction Expressionist and Color Field paintings Neuberger acquired: Pollock, de Kooning, Rothko and more. A fall 2010 sale at Sotheby's showcased Neuberger's taste in the 1990s, when he prospected for young talent then.

Purchase College will miss Roy R. Neuberger and will be forever grateful to his family for keeping his spirit alive through the museum, its programs and its contribution to the community. So far, so good, Mr. Neuberger. Thank you.

Date and Place of Death:

December 24, 2010, New York City

(His wife of 64 years, Marie Salant Neuberger, died on May 11, 1997).

Source:

Neuberger, Roy R. with Alfred and Roma Connable. So Far, So Good - The First 94 Years.
New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1997.

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