Index of Historic Collectors and Dealers of Cubism
Rockefeller, Nelson Aldrich
Bar Harbor, Me., 1908–New York, 1979

Nelson A. Rockefeller was an accomplished businessman, politician, art collector, and philanthropist. 

Rockefeller graduated from Dartmouth College in 1930 and worked for family controlled enterprises, including Rockefeller Center and Chase National Bank (today Chase Manhattan). He also held numerous public offices, including governor of New York for four consecutive terms (1959–73) and vice president in the Ford administration (1974–77). While governor, Rockefeller spearheaded a number of art-related initiatives such as the State Council on the Arts (now the New York State Council on the Arts, NYSCA). The first such institution in the country, the council sought to preserve and expand cultural heritage in the state of New York. Subsequently, similar councils were established in other states. 

Throughout his life, Rockefeller was closely associated with the Museum of Modern Art, New York, which was co-founded in 1932 by his mother, Abigail Greene “Abby” Aldrich Rockefeller. In addition to being a major benefactor, Rockefeller served as a museum trustee and twice as the museum’s president (1939–41 and 1946–53). In 1968 he helped form the Museum of Modern Art Syndicate, a group of museum trustees who purchased the estate of Gertrude Stein. In 1969, the museum curated an exhibition centered on Rockefeller’s collection. It included a selection from the total of approximately 1500 works owned by the collector at this time. 

When Rockefeller began collecting in the 1930s, Cubism was his primary focus. He accumulated several Cubist paintings and works on paper by Georges Braque, Juan Gris, Fernand Léger, Pablo Picasso and sculptures by Jacques Lipchitz and Alexander Archipenko. However, he gradually expanded his scope and amassed a vast collection of modern art by European and American artists. He had a keen interest in modern and contemporary sculpture, but also collected pre-Colombian art as well as work from Africa and the Pacific Islands. In 1954 he founded the Museum of Primitive Art in New York and transferred his personal collection of non-Western art to the museum. It operated until 1976, mounting exhibitions devoted to the indigenous art of the Americas, Africa, the Pacific Islands, and early Asia and Europe. One of the exhibitions, organized in 1960, was devoted to Cubist sculptor Jacques Lipchitz’s collection of African art. After the museum closed, Rockefeller donated its permanent collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. A number of Rockefeller’s Cubist works were bequeathed to the Museum of Modern Art, among them Braque’s papier collé Still Life with Tenora (1913), 2 works by Gris Guitar and Glasses (1914) and The Sideboard (1917), and Picasso’s papier collé Guitar (1914) and paintings Girl with a Mandolin (Fanny Tellier) (1910), Student with a Pipe (1913-14), and Still Life: “Job” (1916).

Contributed by Anna Jozefacka, January 2015
For more information, see:
Boltin, Lee, William S. Lieberman, and Dorothy Canning Miller. The Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection: Masterpieces of Modern Art. New York: Hudson Hill Press, 1981. 

Twentieth-Century Art from the Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller Collection. Exh. cat. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1969. 

For a finding guide to Nelson Rockefeller’s personal archives, please click here.

Artwork from the Leonard A. Lauder Cubist Collection formerly owned by Rockefeller:
Still Life: "2ᵉ étude"
Still Life: "2ᵉ étude" Georges Braque
Paris, early 1914