As 35 works from H. Peter Stern's exceptional art collection are offered in Sotheby's upcoming Arts of the Islamic World sale, we take a closer look at the life of the extraordinary collector and patron of Indian and Southeast Asian art.
H. Peter Stern was born on 12 June, 1928, in Hamburg, Germany, and spent his childhood in Bucharest, Romania. In 1939, his family fled the Nazis, spending a year in Geneva before arriving in New York. Stern graduated from Scarsdale High School, writing a senior thesis on Buddhism and Hinduism that started a life-long interest in Asian culture. He went on to earn a Bachelors Degree in history and literature from Harvard, a law degree from Yale, and a Masters Degree in International Relations from Columbia.
In 1960, he co-founded Storm King Art Center, with his father-in-law and business partner, Ralph E. Ogden. This was the start of a collaborative and creative relationship between the two men, who often referred to how much fun they were having as they worked on building the collection and forming the landscape in the early years. Following Ralph Ogden’s death in 1974, Stern took over the administration of Storm King Art Center. Under his leadership the Art Center grew to become a world-renowned outdoor sculpture museum.
Stern always loved the arts, and was an avid traveler. His artistic interests led him to become a Trustee and later Vice Chair of the World Monuments Fund, where he campaigned for the preservation of cultural treasures like the giant Easter Island heads and Constantin Brancusi’s Endless Column. During the 1970s, he travelled frequently to India, promoting the restoration of several Indian temples. During this time he fell in love with Indian music, art and dance. He helped the brilliant classical dancer Indrani Rahman attend the Julliard School in New York, and sponsored concerts of classical Indian music at Harvard and several other institutions. It was at this time that he began building his collection of Indian and Islamic art.
His love of Indian and Southeast Asian art was reflected throughout his home. He lived in his beloved Cedar House for 35 years, surrounded by Moghul tent hangings, velvets, stone works and miniatures that he had carefully collected over the years. These works were a constant source of joy for him, and Cedar House became a wonderful venue for concerts of classical Indian music, dance, and poetry readings. Stern passed away in 2018 at the age of 90.
Sotheby’s is honoured to present thirty-five lots from Stern’s collection in the Arts of the Islamic World and India sale, comprising architectural drawings by ‘Company School’ artists as well as Indian tent panels, relics of the peripatetic nature of the Mughal courts and their love of nature. The extensive floral repertoire of the Mughals is matched in the Ottoman velvet panels which speak of a golden age in Turkish weaving, also highlighting the influence of trade in this domain.
The collection further comprises a small but fine group of Indian paintings, a testament to Mr. Stern’s eclectic taste and discerning eye for Indian art, that will be offered in our upcoming Indian, Himalayan & Southeast Asian Works of Art sale in New York later this year.