Two Wives Shaped Dallas Mogul's Art Collection Coming to Auction

(Bloomberg) -- How do art collections come together? Sometimes, it depends on who you marry.

Take the late Irvin Levy, who with his brothers ran NCH Corp., an Irving, Texas-based industrial chemicals company his father founded in 1919. Sotheby’s will offer 11 works from his collection estimated at more than $22 million next month in New York.

The group comprises two distinct artistic periods: Impressionist and contemporary. Each can be traced to a woman in his life.

Levy’s initial interest in art was spurred by his first wife Meryl. The couple started buying Impressionist and modern art in the 1970s, gradually filling their antebellum-style Dallas home with paintings by Paul Gauguin and Pierre Bonnard. They traveled regularly to France, befriending prominent art dealer Philippe Brame. They also became supporters of the Dallas Museum of Art, where Irvin served as a board member, chairman or president for 40 years.

Two Wives Shaped Dallas Mogul's Art Collection Coming to Auction

Among the works Levy acquired with Meryl is Gustave Caillebotte’s “La Rue Halevy, vue du sixieme etage,” an 1878 urban landscape depicting a Parisian street from an elevated perspective. It’s estimated at $6 million to $8 million.

Gauguin’s “Chemin sous les palmiers” depicts a tropical paradise, painted partly during the artist’s trip to Martinique in 1887. The estimate also is $6 million to $8 million.

Two Wives Shaped Dallas Mogul's Art Collection Coming to Auction

Two years after Meryl’s death in 1989, Levy met Joan Schnitzer, who would become his second wife. As they traveled to New York and Art Basel, they started acquiring contemporary art.

“We bought what we liked,” Schnitzer said in an interview Thursday. “We both liked the same things. We had such fun doing it.”

The couple moved to a modernist apartment on Turtle Creek, where the earlier collection was soon joined by works from Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler and Gerhard Richter. Levy died last year at age 89.

On one trip to New York, Schnitzer fell in love with Mitchell’s 9-foot-tall “L’Arbre de Phyllis,” depicting a cascade of acid yellow, green and blue brush strokes.

”It was quite large and Irvin said, ‘Where are we going to put it?”’ she recalled. “I said, ‘Don’t worry. We’ll find a place.’ We bought it. It fit perfectly.”

The 1991 canvas is estimated at $3 million to $5 million and will be part of Sotheby’s evening sale of contemporary art on May 16.

On another trip to New York, a Richter painting caught their attention. It wasn’t available but the dealer called them later offering another work, “Abstraktes Bild (593-6),” a 1986 work painted the year the German artist abandoned elements of form and structure and embraced applying paint with a squeegee. The couple returned to New York to see it.

“Irvin said, ‘If you love it, then we should get it,”’ Schnitzer said.

The painting is estimated at $1.5 million to $2.5 million.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.