John W Kluge's ancient art collection continues his philanthropy from beyond the grave

John Werner Kluge was born in Germany in 1914, moving to the USA in 1922 and achieving an economics degree in 1937. He went on to become the richest man in America.

Starting by buying shares in the Metropolitan Broadcasting Corporation, Kluge eventually became its chairman, expanded its television and radio pursuits and bought up an advertising company. When he finally sold it to 20th Century Fox, it was for $4bn.

Around this time, with his wealth at $7bn, Kluge was declared the richest man in America by Forbes magazine in their famous list.

Following his death in 2010, Kluge is best remembered for his extraordinary philanthropy. He paid $60m to create the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress for scholars to make use of its resources.

Egyptian Wadjet Sculpture
The Egyptian Wadjet sculpture depicting a lioness-headed goddess

He also gave more than $110m to Columbia University between 1987 and 1993, followed by a $400m pledge made in 2007. The University of Virginia was also given a $45m estate.

UVA also benefitted from receiving the Kluge-Ruhe collection of Aboriginal art, however. Kluge began collecting Aboriginal art in 1988 after viewing the Dreamings exhibition in New York, bringing together an extraordinary hoard over the following decade, including the archives of the late Professor Edward L. Ruhe of Lawrence, Kansas.

Kluge was also fascinated by early European art, so much so that a Catalogue of the Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Bronzes in the Collection of John Kluge was produced (by authors Vermeule and Eisenberg), and he even had a dedicated exhibition: From Olympus to the Underworld, Ancient Bronzes from the John W. Kluge Collection, at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in 1996.

Apulian Red Figured Volute Krater
Kluge's beautifully decorated Apulian Red Figured Volute Krater

Some of the pieces from this collection are still being sold to honour Kluge's $400m Columbia pledge. At Christie's last week, when many eyes were focussed on a Gilt Silver Emblema of Cleopatra Selene, 16 lots from the Kluge collection brought nearly $3m.

These included an Apulian Red-Figured Volute-Krater, believed to date from 330-300BC, the face of which shows an armed warrior in white beside his rearing horse within an Ionic naiskos, wearing a short red chiton, a crested helmet, holding an oval shield.

A fine Roman bronze nymph
A fine Roman bronze nymph from the collection

It tripled its expected $30,000-50,000 sales total to sell for $158,500. There was also a Roman Bronze Nymph from the 1st century AD which brought $218,500.

Another highlight was an Egyptian Bronze Wadjet sculpture, with the lion-headed goddess depicted squatting with her heels drawn back in the pose of the goddess Maat, atop a papyrus umbel which brought $578,500.

This was not the end of Kluge's possessions, and he continues to do good through his collection from beyond the grave.

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