Producer Norman Lear’s $50M Art Collection Is Headed to Christie’s

Known for his revolutionary television shows, the late producer was also a passionate art collector.

Man in white hat stands in garden holding a cup
The screenwriter’s art collection is going to auction next month. Bob Riha Jr./Getty Images

Norman Lear, the late producer behind iconic programs like All in the FamilyThe Jeffersons and Good Times, didn’t just explore culture through television. He was also an avid art collector who amassed major works by artists including David Hockney and Ed Ruscha. Seven pieces collected by Lear, who died last year at 101, and his wife Lyn will debut during Christie's 20th Century Evening Sale on May 16, with additional works to be offered in subsequent sales. The entire collection is expected to bring in more than $50 million.

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“He knew everyone worth knowing, achieved everything worth achieving and left American culture more interesting, more humane and more honest than he found it,” said Max Charter, vice chairman of 20th- and 21st-century art at Christie’s, in a statement about the famous art collector. “The art that Norman and Lyn collected together is like his era-defining shows, marked as much by the exploration of ideas as by an exquisite sense of craft.”

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Lear, whose boundary-pushing television in the late 1970s and ’80s explored topics like poverty, racism and abortion, was largely drawn to 20th-century artwork and Los Angeles-based artists. With an oeuvre that emphasized everyday Californian scenes, Hockney was a perfect fit. His 1967 painting A Lawn Being Sprinkled, a major piece from the artist’s California Dreaming series, will lead the Lear auction with an estimate of $25 million to $35 million.

Painting of numerous lawn sprinklers going off on green grass.
David Hockney, A Lawn Being Sprinkled, (1967). Courtesy Christie's

Lear also developed close relationships with artists like Robert Rauschenberg, whose large-scale painting Rodeo Place (Spreadis expected to fetch between $3 million and $5 million. The American painter visited the Lears’ house in 1994 to install the painting. Their Los Angeles home was purposely built with a wide-walled screening room large enough to contain the monumental artwork, which measures 16 feet long and contains three full-length doors.

How Normal Lear melded art and activism

In addition to his career in entertainment, much of Lear’s life was dedicated to advocacy and activism—a passion that often intertwined with his love for art. In addition to serving on the National Advisory Board of the Young Storytellers Foundation and providing an endowment for the nonpartisan Norman Lear Center, he acquired one of the first published copies of the Declaration of Independence for $8.1 million in 2001 and took it on a national tour of libraries, museums and stadiums.

In the early 1980s, Lear founded the civic organization People of the American Way. Next month, Christie’s will offer up a promotional image created by Roy Lichtenstein to support the advocacy group. Entitled I Love Liberty (Study), the poster has an estimate of $600,000 to $800,000.

Orange and black painting with the phrase 'Truth" written in the middle
Ed Ruscha, Truth, (1973). Courtesy Christie's

Also included in the upcoming auction is Ed Ruscha’s 1973 Truth, which is expected to realize between $7 million and $10 million. The work was particularly meaningful to Lear, with its message that captured the sentiment underpinning his work in entertainment and activism. “There’s a reason why Norman picked that particular painting in 1980. That’s what spoke to him,” Lyn told Christie’s. “Everything he did in his life was really about truth.”

The prolific screenwriter, often credited with having changed the trajectory of broadcast television through his depiction of societal and political issues on-screen, was involved in the founding of organizations like the Environmental Media Association and Business Enterprise Trust, which respectively promoted environmental causes and socially responsible business management. Shortly after his edition of the Declaration of  Independence went on tour, he helped create a nonprofit called Declare Yourself that urged young Americans to register to vote.

“Whenever he saw an opportunity to give back or make a change, he would jump in,” said Lyn. “Norman was not only a legend, he was very much loved. People had so much admiration for him because he really made a difference.”

Producer Norman Lear’s $50M Art Collection Is Headed to Christie’s