Great collections: the contemporary art collections of Roy Neuberger

Roy Neuberger was born in July 21, 1903 Bridgeport, Connecticut but moved to New York as a child and spent the rest of his long life living there. He finished school and enrolled in college for a course in Journalism, but dropped out to enter business.

Neuberger's first job was in B Altman and Company where his work included selling paintings. A deep interest developed, and when he inherited money from his parents at age 20 he travelled to Europe to live a life amongst the lively artistic community, study art and visit the Louvre frequently.

Having toyed with the idea of being a professional artist, Neuberger concluded that he did not have enough of a gift to be one of the greats. Returning to New York he began trading stocks and shares on Wall Street, surviving the Great Depression which began less than a year later.

Fatimah Tuggar Bath Time
Fatimah Tuggar's Bath Time from the Neuberger Berman collection

Neuberger wryly referred to his career path from artist to stockbroker as being like Gauguin in reverse.

In 1939 he founded Neuberger Berman and also bought the first painting he would lend to an exhibition to bring its creator fame: Boy from the Plains by Peter Hurd, which he lent to Nelson Rockefeller who took it on a travelling exhibition.

Over the following decades, Neuberger collected hundreds of works by Milton Avery, Jacob Lawrence, Jack Levine, David Smith, Willem de Kooning, Edward Hopper, Georgia O'Keeffe and Jackson Pollock. He was one of the first to buy a Jackson Pollock and tended to have an eye for artworks which had yet to be rated by most.

His collection of works by Milton Avery was particularly strong, beginning with Gaspé Landscape, which he still had on his wall at the time of his death.

Neuberger was not in any conventional sense an art investor. His collection was driven by two ideas: firstly he thought that business life was enhanced by having art in the office on display, and his collection appeared to colleagues and employees from the founding of Neuberger Berman onward.

The company started its own collection, separate from his own, 50 years later.

Secondly, he believed in collecting works from up-and-coming artists, and rather than selling them, making them available for public exhibitions. In the late 1960s he donated much of his collection to the State University of New York, where it is now displayed at what became known as the Neuberger Museum.

Excerpts from "The Neuberger Suite", a concert created to celebrate the American Art Collection of Roy Neuberger at the Neuberger Museum, Purchase NY

Neuberger's interest in promoting contemporary artworks may have been inspired by his reading a biography of Vincent Van Gogh when he was still in Europe. He was horrified by the fact that Van Gogh was completely unappreciated during his lifetime and at the time of his death from suicide had only sold one painting.

The principle of buying art he thought worth further consideration by others led Neuberger to purchase art in substantial quantities and then gradually distribute it to museums and galleries.

In 2003 he published a second autobiography The Passionate Collector: Eighty Years in the World of Art setting out his path as a collector. He was awarded the 2007 National Medal of Arts by then President George W Bush in November of that year.

Roy Neuberger

Roy Neuberger died on Christmas Eve 2010 at the extraordinary age of 107, being survived by his daughter, Ann Neuberger Aceves, sons Roy S Neuberger and James A Neuberger, eight grandchildren; and 30 great-grandchildren.

Whilst he still had the Gaspé Landscape on his wall, art works he had collected had by then been distributed to at least 70 institutions in 24 states, making him one of the greatest patrons of American art there has ever been.


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