Arts / Museums

Your Portrait of a 157 Million Dollar Texas Lady — the Incomparable Anne Marion and Her Record-Smashing Art Collection

This Larger Than Life Oil Heiress Made Museums Before Her Death In 2020

BY // 05.14.21

Legendary patron, museum maker and larger-than-life ranch-and-oil heiress Anne Marion’s bold art collection went on the block this week at Sotheby’s New York.

Valued around $150 million for its 18 stellar lots, the auction results surpassed that mark to come in at $157.2 million (including Sotheby’s buyer’s premium and overhead premium fees).

Global buyers vied for some of the greatest hits of Abstract Expressionism including Clyfford Still’s PH-125 of 1948, which sold for $30.7 million. Three records were set for canvases by Richard Diebenkorn, Kenneth Noland and Larry Rivers, and the evening’s top lot went for a cool $37 million — a portrait of the King rendered in Western finery by the King of Pop, Andy Warhol.

Read on for a profile of the remarkable and iconic Texas woman who assembled this trove of modern and contemporary masterworks, including PaperCity’s exclusive interview with Anne Marion’s daughter, Windi Grimes.

 

Anne Marion, Fort Worth fourth-generation ranching-and-oil heiress, couldn’t have differed more in her collecting interests, family background, and demeanor from the understated European Dominique de Menil, heir to the Schlumberger fortune and co-founder of The Menil Collection in Houston. Yet in her own way, Marion’s disciplined eye, bold vision, and abundant philanthropy made as important a contribution in her lifetime as did her fellow (adopted) Texan, Mrs. de Menil.

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Although on the board of trustees of the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, Anne Marion played her greatest role in her hometown vis-à-vis three institutions: the Kimbell Art Museum, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, and, reflecting her heritage, the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame (where she was inducted in 2005).

And, like the extraordinary Dominique, Marion went on to found a museum. In her case, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, dedicated to a woman as strong and tenacious as herself, and one equally at home on the land.

Living a big American life against the broad panorama of the West, Marion, who died in February 2020 at the age of 81, presided as president over her family’s Four Sixes Ranch, established 1870, and its vast 260,000 acreage and fabled quarter horse program and Black Angus herds. Also among Marion’s titles were president of the munificent Burnett Foundation — she as great granddaughter of the maverick cattleman Captain Samuel “Burk” Burnett (1849-1922) — which to date has gifted $600 million to charities, notably arts and humanities. And she was chairman of Burnett Oil Company, built upon oil strikes in 1921 and again in 1969, which made the grand patron’s largesse possible.

Anne Marion, mid 1960s
Anne Marion, mid 1960s (Courtesy the Estate of Mrs. John L. Marion and Sotheby’s)

Sotheby’s landed the tremendous coup of auctioning her collection, which sold for $157.2 million. Despite her four-decade marriage to John Marion, the former chairman and chief auctioneer of Sotheby’s North America (her fourth husband — the couple wed in 1988, and co-founded the O’Keeffe Museum in 1997), it was not a given that the collection would come to Sotheby’s. The famed auction house had to vie for it, according to the auction house’s VP/senior press officer, Derek Parsons.

Earlier this week, the first of eight sales encompassing 200-some works from the Anne Marion collection went on the block, positioned in a plum evening spot in Sotheby’s spring calendar. “American Visionary: The Collection of Mrs. John L. Marion” featured a mere 18 lots — but what works of art these are, coming from the walls of her I.M. Pei house in Fort Worth, where they hung for decades.

For a glimpse into the remarkable woman who collected them, we reached out to the Fort Worth museum directors who knew her best, the collector’s daughter and Sotheby’s top brass.

Museum Directors Weigh In on Anne Marion

“Anne Marion embodied the strength and fearlessness of the American West while having the discerning eye of a connoisseur,” says Kimbell Art Museum director Eric M. Lee. “Her generosity knew no bounds and will have an impact on Texas and the nation for generations to come … For nearly 40 years, she served on the board of the Kimbell Art Foundation and supported the museum munificently.

“When the Kimbell bid at auction for a Matisse, and the bidding exceeded by millions the Kimbell’s limit, she secured the painting for the museum by boldly stepping in and funding the difference. She purchased other works for the museum, including sculptures by Fernand Léger and Henry Moore, a 1914 masterpiece by Mondrian and, most recently, a canvas by Sisley, which Mrs. Marion gave to the Kimbell in honor of her friend Kay Fortson, president of the Kimbell Art Foundation.”

The Modern’s director Marla Price has a similar tale. “Anne Marion was a great and generous supporter of our museum,” Price says. “She purchased the land for our new building and chaired the Building Committee that hired architect Tadao Ando. For many years, she chaired the Modern’s Acquisitions Committee and, with her husband John, donated more than 150 works to our collection, including some of our most important acquisitions, like Richard Serra’s Vortex. She was also lots of fun.

“Former chief curator Michael Auping and I traveled around Japan with her in early 1997 to see as many buildings by Ando as possible. She was so impressed with what she had seen that she kissed Mr. Ando when we arrived at his office in Osaka, much to his great surprise.”

Clyfford Still’s PH-125 (1948-No.1), 1948, may command as much as $25 to $35 million.
Clyfford Still’s PH-125 (1948-No.1), 1948, commanded $30.7 million at Sotheby’s May 12, 2021 auction: “American Visionary: The Collection of Mrs. John L. Marion.”

Sotheby’s Take

Queried via email about the Marion collection, Sotheby’s senior international specialist Michael Macaulay replied:

“The quality of every work is exceptional, and that is incredibly rare, even among the most famous collections that have appeared at auction. Compared with other collections, it also stands apart because it spans archetypes of the two defining movements of post-war American art history, namely Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art.”

Anne Marion’s Daughter Remembers

Marion’s daughter Windi Grimes, who grew up in Frisco and now lives in Houston, has taken up Marion’s mantle, continuing her mother’s tradition and inspiration as relating to land, family and philanthropy. She answers PaperCity’s questions now:

Daughter Windi Grimes, with Anne Marion, inherited her love for the land and animals from her mother. (Courtesy the Estate of Mrs. John L. Marion and Sotheby's)
Daughter Windi Grimes, with Anne Marion, inherited her love for the land and animals from her mother. (Courtesy the Estate of Mrs. John L. Marion and Sotheby’s)

I know your mother collected over a lifetime. Can you share a few details of how she lived with the artwork.

Windi Grimes: My grandmother (Anne Burnett Tandy) built the I.M. Pei house in Fort Worth and had originally planned to give it to The Modern, much like Bayou Bend was given to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. I think that’s why I.M. Pei agreed to do it.

After he died, there was an article that he only ever designed three residences. My grandmother was the founder of The Modern. It was the first art museum in Texas and was originally called the Fort Worth Art Association. My mom obviously spearheaded the new Tadao Ando building.

My grandmother’s art collection was really good. She had a much more eclectic collection, that I think stems from the Grand Tour type of thinking. She bought a lot of art on trips.

Then my mother came along, traded almost all of it, and decided she was going to start completely over and have a very cohesive collection.

Turquoise, enamel, and diamond Bastille cuff bracelet by David Webb, destined for a dedicated fine jewels sale later this year.
Anne Marion’s taste in jewelry also ran to the bold: Turquoise, enamel, and diamond Bastille cuff bracelet by David Webb, destined for a dedicated fine jewels sale later this year.

Where did your mother acquire, from auction or dealers?

WG: All over the place. I went to New York with her several times. I was probably a sophomore/junior at Hockaday when I started painting. I really loved it. One day, she said, “Let’s go to New York. If you could have lunch with anybody, who would it be?” And I said, “(art dealer) Leo Castelli.” I was probably the only high school girl in Dallas that was reading Interview magazine.”

Andy Warhol’s Elvis 2 Times, 1963, estimate $20 to $30 million, speaks to the lore of the American cowboy via the King.
Andy Warhol’s Elvis 2 Times, 1963, speaks to the lore of the American cowboy via the King. The Warhol achieved the status of top lot in the Anne Marion “American Visionary” auction with its final figure of $37 million.

Where did Warhol’s Elvis 2 Times hang in your Fort Worth house?

WG: There was a big entry hall that was made for entertaining, and then there was a very wide hall that went back to the residence, and the art was in those two spaces. Very open and connected.

What a range your mother collecting, from the image-based Pop of Warhol and Lichtenstein, to the nuanced abstraction of Clyfford Still. How would you characterize your mother’s eye?

WG: She was very good at picking works that had the elements of color, contrast, boldness, theme, and line. Also, her Western art collection would blow your socks off.

Is that at the ranch?

WG: It’s actually in the family offices. It’s everything from beautiful, amazing Taos founders to current Cowboy Arts Association artists.

Did your mother have a favorite?

WG: No, I think she loved them all, and she liked the juxtaposition and the relationship they had in the house.

Is there work in the auction you would like to see in a museum?

WG: That’s already been done. She left very specific bequests to The Modern and the Kimbell.

Who visited the house?

WG: Museum groups from all over the world have been through it. It’s a place to go. It always blows people away, obviously, because it’s in Fort Worth, Texas. Between The Modern, the Kimbell, The Carter, mom’s house, and a few others, they go, “Oh my gosh!”

Anne Marion was the lucky owner of this pop-art masterwork: Roy Lichtenstein’s “Girl with Beach Ball II,” 1977. Featured in “American Visionary: The Collection of Mrs. John L. Marion,” on the block at Sotheby’s New York, Wednesday, May 12, 6 pm ET.
Anne Marion was the lucky owner of this masterwork: Roy Lichtenstein’s “Girl with Beach Ball II,” 1977. Featured in “American Visionary: The Collection of Mrs. John L. Marion,” at Sotheby’s New York, Wednesday, May 12, 2021, the jaunty Pop art canvas went for $14 million.

Art memories?

WG: She would finish her business for the day and pick up her books and study. She would really, really study all the artists she collected. She was familiar enough to know when she saw something good.

She didn’t buy things just because they had a name, or because the dealer told her to. She really honed her eye.

It was the age before the Internet. Did she use an art advisor?

WG: No.

Favorite dealers in New York?

WG: I would say Mitchell-Innes & Nash was one (where the Warhol Elvis 2 Times was acquired).

Parting thoughts?

WG: Just that she really worked hard at it. She learned her stuff. She tried to be very deep. Later on, she bought a few more things to keep up with the times, but she never got trendy.

Timeless?

WG: Right, timeless is a perfect word for almost everything she did. . . She was one of my biggest inspirations.

All images courtesy the Estate of Mrs. John L. Marion and Sotheby’s.

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