David Lloyd Kreeger and his wife Carmen are setting up a foundation, leaving their Washington house and their mid-19th- to mid-20th-Century paintings and sculptures as a collection to be open to the public.
The value of the collection was estimated at $30 million in 1984--well before the dramatic escalation of art prices over the last year. Kreeger has declined to place a value on the collection. The house--designed by architect Philip Johnson and itself a major work of art--has an assessed valuation for taxes of $3.3 million but is worth much more on the market.
The gift, established by Kreeger’s will, includes an endowment in the millions of dollars.
“I don’t want to say how much,” said Kreeger, a munificent Washington benefactor who is uncomfortable talking about the dollar amounts of his gifts. “I may have to add more to it. But I do think there’s enough so it won’t have to appeal to the public for funds. Of course, Duncan Phillips thought he was leaving enough to support the Phillips Collection. So who knows what’ll be enough in 50 years?”
Duncan and Marjorie Phillips opened the Phillips Collection in the family house in Washington in 1921.
The Kreeger children--Peter, a Washington real estate developer, and Carol (Mrs. David) Ingall of Chicago--will be trustees of the Kreeger Collection. The nine grandchildren are expected to carry on the family trusteeship.
The Kreeger Collection contains many Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works. The pre-Blue Period Picasso “Cafe La Rotonde” (1901) is a great prize; when Kreeger bought it in 1961, he paid $81,000 for it, a record for a living artist at the time. A late Claude Monet, “Misty River Scene” (1897), is another gem of the collection.
Former National Gallery of Art director John Walker once called the Kreeger collection a “truly distinctive collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art, put together with great taste.”
Kreeger will celebrate his 80th birthday Jan. 4. He graduated magna cum laude from both Rutgers University and Harvard Law School. He made his money--estimated variously at $50 million to $75 million--as president of Government Employees Insurance Co., which he joined in 1948. Earlier he was special assistant to the U.S. attorney general and in private practice.
“It’s really good news for the city that the Kreeger Collection will be open to the public,” Laughlin Phillips, director of the Phillips Collection, said, adding that Kreeger has “always said that he was inspired by my father’s example.”
The Kreegers began seriously buying paintings with a small Renoir in 1952 and have since collected more than 100 by such artists as Bonnard, Kandinsky, Sisley, Corot, Rouault, Dufy, Degas, Pissarro, Utrillo, Courbet, Renoir, Braque, Degas, Avery, Dubuffet and Van Gogh. Sculptures by Arp, Picasso, Lipchitz, Noguchi and Moore, among others, stand in a court around the swimming pool.
“I don’t want to give an inventory,” Kreeger said. “That would be boasting.”
The Kreegers’ modern house is made of 22-foot cubes topped by domes, surfaced with crushed nutshells and resting on travertine columns. Johnson, the best-known living American architect, designed the house in the mid-1960s. Finished in 1967, it was built on 5 1/2 acres of land. Besides the swimming pool, the estate has a tennis court.
In the ‘60s Johnson tired of designing houses and was beginning to specialize in huge buildings. Kreeger said Tuesday that he told Johnson they wanted not only a “cozy home for us and our family, but a building that would stand on its own as a work of art. He realized all those aims.”
In the great hall, 66x22 feet, the Kreegers’ current favorite paintings hang on beige-carpeted two-story walls that make it easy to rearrange the paintings. Many more works hang in three large galleries on the lower floor, and a humidity-controlled space holds the rest.