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Brooke Astor Settlement: Belated Windfall for Metropolitan Museum, Morgan Library, Brooklyn Museum, Other NY Cultural Institutions

Brooke Astor’s art-filled Park Avenue apartment

Good things sometimes come to those who wait.

The Metropolitan Museum announced late this afternoon that thanks to a settlement brokered by the office of NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, it stands to receive some $20 million from the estate of its major benefactor and trustee, Brooke Astor. The windfall “will be used to support the institution’s curatorial programs and art acquisitions, as Mrs. Astor wished,” according to the Met’s press release.

The estate of Astor, who died in in 2005 at the age of 105, had been tied up in a five-year will contest that, in the words of the Attorney General’s press release, “was further complicated by the 2009 conviction of her son, Anthony D. Marshall [under appeal], for stealing millions of dollars from her—and ultimately from charity—during the last years of her life, when her mental capacity was in decline.”

Astor’s art collection was also involved in the settlement, according to the AG’s announcement:

Old master drawings and other art works, valued at approximately $4 million, will go to benefit designated charities, including the Morgan Library and Museum and the Metropolitan Museum. Most of the other art works, jewelry and household furnishings will be sold for the benefit of the charitable estate. Sotheby’s has announced [my link, not theirs] that the auction for these items will take place on September 24-25, 2012.

Other Astor beneficiaries of some $100-million in funds for charities include the New York Public Library, Brooklyn Museum, Carnegie Hall, Rockefeller University, New York University, Historic Hudson Valley and the Wildlife Conservation Society. A new $30-million Brooke Astor Fund for New York City Education will also be established.

What the Met won’t receive is an important Childe Hassam painting that Astor once owned:

Childe Hassam, “Flags, Fifth Avenue” (also known as “Up the Avenue from 34th Street, May 1917”)

According to the Met, “Although Mrs. Astor bequeathed this iconic work to the Metropolitan, it was wrongly sold in 2002. [The AG says it was in 2003.] The painting’s current whereabouts are unknown. The museum continues to regret that it will be unable to display the work for its public as Mrs. Astor so long hoped.”

A 2008 report by Serge Kovaleski in the NY Times said that Marshall, “who had the authority to oversee her [Astor’s] financial affairs, sold the painting to a gallery for about $10 million. Mr. Marshall—accused by his son in court papers of neglecting the needs of Mrs. Astor while enriching himself—took a 20 percent commission on the deal, or $2 million.” The settlement provides the Met with $3 million (part of its $20 million), “in full satisfaction of its claim regarding the Childe Hassam.”

Although the settlement more than halved Marshall’s inheritance, he’s still left with a tidy $14.5 million.

Negotiations were led by the AG’s Charities Bureau chief, Jason Lilien, along with Assistant Attorneys General Carl Distefano and Lisa Barbieri.

an ArtsJournal blog