Late Finance Executive Ralph Goldenberg’s $16M Art Collection Is Headed to Sotheby’s

The trader curated his iconic collection with an eye toward minimalism and understated works.

Print that shows the world "Fragile" in red box
Andy Warhol, Fragile, (1962). Courtesy Sotheby's

The minimalist London home of the late financial trader Ralph Goldenberg was always intended to house art. Originally designed by architect John Pawson for Doris Saatchi, first wife of mega art collector Charles Saatchi, the white walls of its cubic rooms were for decades adorned with Goldenberg’s vast holdings of works by artists like Alexander Calder, Lucio Fontana and Jackson Pollock.

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This summer, the spirit of the iconic three-story house will be recreated by Sotheby's as it gears up to sell around eighty works from Goldenberg’s collection. The auction house’s London galleries will present the lots in a public exhibition designed to replicate the feel of Goldenberg’s home from June 18 and 25 before putting the works on the block in its Modern and Contemporary Evening and Day Sales on June 25 and June 26. The collection is expected to bring in more than £13 million ($16.3 million).

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Originally from Chicago, Goldenberg, who died in 2022 at age 87, co-founded clearing broker Goldenberg, Hehmeyer & Co. after holding several executive positions at the Chicago Board of Trade. His wealth fueled his love of art, a passion established in his youth as he explored the halls of the Art Institute of Chicago and immersed himself in the city’s art scene. He surrounded himself with fine literature and music and started his art collection with prints by Jean Cocteau and Carol Summers. That collection quickly expanded to include oil paintings by Jean Dubuffet, Joan Mitchell and Piet Mondrian.

Blue and white striped painting
Agnes Martin, Untitled, (2001). Courtesy Sotheby's

The collector became enthralled by American and European minimalism, snapping up works like Robert Ryman’s 1965 Unfinished Painting, which is expected to fetch between £1.5 million ($1.9 million) and £2 million ($2.5 million) when it heads to auction. “Ralph was drawn to artists that had a large body of work, reading and studying everything he could find on those who captured his imagination before patiently searching for the right piece from their oeuvres to suit his collection,” said Goldenberg’s family in a statement. He also acquired works like the geometric 2001 Untitled by Agnes Martin, which has an estimate of £400,000 ($501,000) to £600,000 ($752,000), and Cy Twombly’s 1983 Untitled (Formian Dreams + Actuality), which stands as one of the few examples of the artist’s works on paper and could realize between £1.2 million ($1.5 million) and £1.8 million ($2.3 million).

Ralph Goldenberg’s dedication to aesthetics

Even when collecting art by the Young British Artists (YBAS) of the 1990s, Goldenberg selected works that reflected his minimalist tastes. Instead of acquiring one of Damien Hirst’s more colorful Spot paintings, for example, he picked up Hirst’s white-on-white Forget. The glossy 2003 painting is expected to sell for between £150,000 ($188,000) and £300,000 ($376,000).

Man in suit stands behind dinner table in front of large artwork hanging on wall behind him
Ralph Goldenberg began collecting art in the 1960s. Courtesy Sotheby's

Despite his commitment to understated art, Goldenberg’s collection did contain several lively pieces by playful creators like Andy Warhol, William Kentridge and Tracey Emin. Warhol’s 1962 Fragile, which belongs to the Shipping Label Series—one of the artist’s first bodies of works—has an estimate of £100,000 ($125,000) to £150,000 ($188,000).

“Holding near-mythic status, this collection is defined by the singular perspective of a collector who, over the course of five decades, was driven by a profound love of art, and unerring eye and intellect and, above all, curiosity,” said Oliver Barker, chairman of Sotheby’s Europe, in a statement. Goldenberg served on the boards of Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art and the Art Institute of Chicago, in addition to becoming involved with the prints and drawings committee at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and acting as a patron of the Tate Modern in London.

Late Finance Executive Ralph Goldenberg’s $16M Art Collection Is Headed to Sotheby’s