Each modeled with its head turned and beak raised high, its plummage picked out in black, yellow and brown, seated atop a nest with applied foliage and feathers
612 in. (16.5 cm.) long
The Lucy Truman Aldrich Collection (sister of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller), Providence, Rhode Island, 1955.
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Lot Essay

The Collection of Abby and George O’Neill

The Collection of Abby and George O’Neill reflects a distinguished history of American collecting. From superb examples of European furniture to Impressionist painting, and from rare Chinese ceramics to contemporary Alexander Calder jewelry, the breadth of fine and decorative arts is remarkable. Following an enviable family tradition started by her grandparents—John D. Rockefeller Jr. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller—Abby O’Neill, together with her husband George, developed their own collection with its own unique voice. Her grandfather joined the family firm, Standard Oil, in the latter years of the nineteenth century before stepping down a decade later to focus on philanthropy, while her grandmother was a founder of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In December 2018, the collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller, Abby’s uncle and aunt, sold at Christie’s in New York for $835million, the highest total ever for a single collection of fine and decorative art. During their lifetimes, Abby O’Neill and her husband George, continued the Rockefeller legacy by combining successful careers in business alongside building an enviable private collection of fine art.
The collection is led by a pair of exceptional George III gilt-bronze mahogany commodes. Dating from the mid-seventeenth century, and attributed to the celebrated London-based cabinet makers William Vile and John Cobb, the elegant and serpentine forms that distinguish these pieces can be found throughout the O’Neill’s collection. From the winding country lane in Alfred Sisley’s bucolic painting to the twisting metal strands of Alexander Calder’s exquisite jewelry, the couple’s sophisticated eye drew them to acquire only the best examples for their collection.

As well as her passion for the arts, Abby O’Neill continued her family’s proud tradition of combining business and philanthropy. She served a trustee of Rockefeller Financial Services and Rockefeller & Company from 1979 to 1998, and as Chairman from 1998 to 2004. In addition, she also served as a trustee of Massachusetts Financial Services Mutual Fund from 1992 to 2003. In addition, Mrs. O'Neill devoted herself to numerous educational, arts, environmental and community service organizations over a lifetime of philanthropy and service. Among the many organizations served, she was Chairman of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, one of the family’s most important philanthropic bodies, where the Fund’s President Stephen Heintz, described her unique qualities: “Abby had both the business acumen and philanthropic passion of her great grandfather, John D. Rockefeller, and brought both to the work of the Fund, with great effect,” Heintz said. “Her lifetime commitment to the Fund, her warm, down to earth manner, and her deep concern for humanity have been greatly valued by the trustees and staff alike.”

“Abby connected so naturally with people, providing a role model for genuine relationships as well as philanthropic excellence,” said Valerie Rockefeller, Chair of the Board of Trustees and second cousin of Mrs. O’Neill. “Abby was prepared for every board meeting she attended and every social occasion she hosted, cheerfully setting a high standard professionally and personally. Being a woman leader when that was more of a challenge—and a mother of six, which is ever daunting—never slowed Abby. I will miss her as a loving relative, and honor her as an exceptional trustee.”
In addition to her responsibilities with Rockefeller family charities, Abby also served as President of Greenacre Foundation, Vice-Chairman of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, a trustee of Teachers College Columbia University, and a dedicated trustee of International House New York for over 59 years. As a longtime resident of Oyster Bay, on New York’s Long Island, she was a trustee of the Community Foundation of Oyster Bay, which she and her husband George were instrumental in establishing and on whose board they served as trustee for over 50 years.
After attending Harvard College in 1950, George O’Neill started his career working at the Chase Manhattan Bank, and later spent 13 years at Train & Cabot. He would go on to found and was chairman of Meriwether Capital in 1977, a private investment firm in New York. He also served as board Chairman at a number of additional companies, including serving as a Commissioner of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey from 1991-1999. George shared his wife’s philanthropic interests and served as a trustee of New York’s public television station, WNET, along with Colonial Williamsburg, Vassar College, Webster College, East Woods School and the Center for Educational Innovation-Public Education Association. In delivering George’s eulogy, family friend Nancy S. Taylor recalled “George was the real deal. He was fun and funny, warm and mischievous, but also highly accomplished. He was a man of character and of honor. He had integrity. He was loyal to a fault. Abby and George. They were an extraordinary team”

Over the course of their lives, Abby and George O’Neill ensured that the generations of Rockefeller family philanthropic efforts continued to make significant advances in support of scientific research, higher education, the arts, sustainable economic development, and land conservation. As well as their business and philanthropic successes, the couple also continued the tradition of artistic collection that has, arguably, been unsurpassed. This legacy has come to define the tradition of artistic collecting in the United States, and has left the country with one of the most important cultural legacies in its history.
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