The Collection of Alex & Elisabeth Lewyt exemplifes the exceptional taste of two of America’s most important patrons of early modern art. This extraordinary couple, whose lives are a testament to ingenuity, creativity, compassion and hard work, formed one of the most celebrated collections of late 19th and early 20th century European art.
Alexander Lewyt (1908-1988) was a visionary, inventor and entrepreneur from a young age. As a teenager the Manhattan-born son of an Austrian immigrant worked in his father’s metal trinket shop, where he invented the clip-on bow-tie. Inheriting the family business at age 18, Alex Lewyt continually expanded and diversifed, despite the Great Depression, adding clients including International Business Machines Inc., best known as IBM.
Lewyt’s most famous invention was his eponymous vacuum cleaner, a compact machine with no dust bag that was designed to operate without distorting television and radio reception. He also made popcorn poppers and air conditioners, as well as equipment for military use, landing a $16.7 million contract with the U.S. Army Signal Corps in 1950. By 1952 Lewyt was living part-time in France, where he began collecting art. His marriage to Elisabeth, who shared his passion for art, took place on December 31, 1953.
Born in Chartres, France nearly a century ago, Elisabeth Lewyt was known by some as ‘Saint Babette’ for her kindness and devotion to animals As modest as her late husband Alexander M. Lewyt was ebullient, Mrs. Lewyt was the more reserved partner as her husband accepted the French Legion of Honor for wartime service to France, founded a Museum of Household Implements, started a program to employ senior citizens in 1957, sold the Lewyt Corporation in 1973, and collected paintings by Cézanne, Degas, Bonnard, Renoir, and most famously, The Man With the Axe by Paul Gauguin. Many of the paintings were later donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Known to her friends as Babette, Mrs. Lewyt championed organizations that followed a no-kill policy for strays and abandoned pets. She was instrumental in saving countless animals from euthanasia, both through her philanthropy and her hands-on work.
Sotheby’s is honored to be offering the works from the Collection of Alex & Elisabeth Lewyt in a series of sales this year.