This spring season, Sotheby’s New York is honored to offer property from the Collection of Marylou Whitney, a generous philanthropist, thoroughbred breeder, arts patron, devoted wife and mother, and glamorous society hostess.
B orn Marie Louise Schroeder in Kansas City, Missouri on December 24, 1925, Marylou had dreams of becoming an actress, which took her to New York. With her first husband, Frank Hosford of the John Deere family, she had four children, but the marriage ended after ten years. It was during her separation from Mr. Hosford that she met the businessman Cornelius Vanderbilt “Sonny” Whitney. Marylou would go on to marry Sonny in 1958 and this long, happy marriage produced a daughter. During her years with Sonny, Marylou would begin her lifelong passion for horses and the turf, which was reflected in the fine art they owned, including Sir Alfred Munnings’ Mahmoud Being Saddled for the Derby, 1936. Through her devotion to breeding and racing horses, Marylou built a life not just in Kentucky but at Cady Hill, her estate in Saratoga Springs, a beloved town she would support until her death.
After Sonny’s death in 1992, Marylou established her own eponymous stables, racing under the classic Eton blue and brown colors. She had enormous success with Bird Town, who won the Kentucky Oaks in 2003, and Birdstone, who won the Belmont Stakes and the Travers Stakes in 2004. Marylou also embraced her sense of adventure, traveling to the North and South Poles and sponsoring a dog sled team in Alaska. While on a tour of Alaska, Marylou met John Hendrickson, an aide to then Governor Walter J. Hickel, and he would become her third husband in 1997, a marriage that would last until her passing.
With John, Marylou strengthened her commitment to helping others and they focused their philanthropic efforts on causes that were personally meaningful. In the Adirondacks, a place Marylou adored and visited often, she supported the Long Lake Library and created the Marylou Whitney Medical Complex. In Kentucky, she established a cancer research and treatment center for women at the University of Kentucky. Amongst her many efforts in Saratoga Springs, she was a founder of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, the National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame and the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame and supported the Saratoga Hospital and the Saratoga YMCA. John and Marylou also initiated the Backstretch Appreciation program to benefit the 2,500 workers in the backstretch. Founded in 2006, the program creates nightly events and activities to support those who work for low wages in more than 90 barns at Saratoga.
Having lived an amazing 93 years, Marylou was a dynamic person whose life was filled with beauty, adventure, joy and generosity. Like her impressive portfolio of philanthropic causes, Marylou’s collection of fine art and jewelry is a rich reflection of her timeless glamour and spirit. Those who knew her loved her, and she will be remembered for her dazzling smile and her enormous heart that gave so much to others. By presenting this collection, Sotheby’s is honored to ensure that Marylou’s style and passion will be enjoyed for generations to come.
Property from her collection will appear in the 19th European Art sale on 31 January in New York, Magnificent Jewels and Fine Jewels auctions on 20–21 April, and American Art this May.
Sir Alfred Munnings
T wo highlights of the 19th Century European Art auction are paintings by Sir Alfred James Munnings hailing from the Whitney's collection. Celebrated as the most brilliant and innovative painter of horses since George Stubbs, Sir Alfred Munnings returned often to the spontaneity of race day. His keen appreciation for the individuality and personality of each horse he depicted formed the foundation of each work he created. Sotheby’s 31 January auction coincides with a revelatory exhibition in which the artist is celebrated, Tales from the Turf: The Kentucky Horse, 1825-1950, on view at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky until March.
Munnings’s Mahmoud Being Saddled for the Derby, 1936 depicts Mahmoud, who became the star stallion at the Whitneys’ farm in Kentucky and sired some of the most important lines in modern American racing. Mahmoud became the star stallion at the Whitneys’ farm in Kentucky and a horse who sired one of the most important lines in modern American racing. Mahmoud was bred in 1933 by the Aga Khan by Blenheim, the winner of the 1930 Derby, out of Mah Mahal, daughter of the "Flying Filly" herself Mumtaz Mahal, widely thought to be the fastest horse ever seen on an English track. In his two-year-old season, he posted impressive wins at the Exeter Stakes at Newmarket's July meeting; the Richmond Stakes at Goodwood, which he won over six furlongs; and the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster, which he led from start to finish.
An unimpressive run at the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket in 1936 set Mahmoud up for a thrilling race at Epsom in June. In a field of twenty-two horses, against odds of 100/8 and with a course so hard it was almost bare, Mahmoud prepared to run against his stable companions Taj Akbar, ridden by the Champion jockey Gordon Richards (both seen at left in the present work), and Bala Hissar. Ridden by Charlie Smirke, Mahmoud pulled off a tremendous victory on this very fast ground, setting two records that would stand until 1995. Mahmoud’s time of 2 minutes 33.8 seconds was the fastest hand-held timing ever clocked, while the Aga Khan remained the only owner in 150 years to have had his colors carried first and second in the Derby.
"I liked Mahmoud, and liked painting him, one reason being that he was looked after by a most intelligent lad who understood me as well as his horse."
The present work was commissioned by the Aga Khan to commemorate this record Derby victory. A second, smaller version of the same composition, on panel, was commissioned at the same time and gifted by the Aga Khan to Frank Butters, trainer of Mahmoud and the unbeaten 1935 Triple Crown winner Bahram (sold in these rooms, June 1, 2000, lot 119, for $3,800,750). When the Royal Mail issued a set of six stamps to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Derby in 1979, Mahmoud Being Saddled for the Derby, 1936 was chosen as one of the iconic depictions of Epsom.
A narchist, the subject of another painting from the Marylou Whitney collection, was a favorite of Munnings, appearing in a number of works individually and with other of his horses. Sir Alfred Munnings begins An Artist’s Life, the first volume of his three-volume autobiography, with an account of his horses: “First, Anarchist, height sixteen and a half hands — the best I ever rode — a bold, clever unassuming and well-mannered horse, with a calm outlook on life. All jumps came alike to him and he never gave me a fall. Bred in Normandy by a Saumur instructor, he was jumping more than six feet in French competitions as a four-year-old.”
During World War II, Munnings and his wife Violet moved to a hunting lodge near Withypool, in Somerset near Exmoor National Park, as a retreat. There, he met the three Delaney brothers, who he took under his wing, employing them as grooms and riders. Apparently Munnings was so appalled at the state of the boys' clothes that he had jodphurs, shirts and waistcoats tailored for them. Distinguished by their smart dress and tousled blond hair, the brothers appear in a number of works throughout the 1940s, such as My Horse Anarchist, which was lent by Mr. Whitney to the 1983 exhibition, Alfred J. Munnings: Images of Turf and Field, featuring paintings owned by many of the most prominent families in the sporting world, including Paul Mellon among others.
Sotheby’s 31 January auction coincides with the exhibition Tales from the Turf: The Kentucky Horse, 1825-1950, on view at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky until March. The first exhibition to examine Kentucky’s relationship to the horse through art, Tales from the Turf includes works by Munnings which vividly capture the thrill of the racing traditions of which Marylou Whitney was such a vital part.
M ore than fifteen exceptional pieces owned by Whitney feature in Sotheby’s New York jewelry auctions. Pearls, diamonds, emeralds, sapphires and rubies comprise the statement necklaces, bracelets and rings in this bold collection. Adding to the already illustrious Marylou Whitney provenance, certain jewels once belonged to European royalty and aristocrats, including Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoleon III and last empress of France.