Progress and Contemplation: The Philanthropy of William S. Paley

Progress and Contemplation: The Philanthropy of William S. Paley

The legacy of William S. Paley’s charitable work continues with the sale of his masterful collection, supporting New York's Museum of Modern Art, the Greenpark Foundation and The Paley Museum.
The legacy of William S. Paley’s charitable work continues with the sale of his masterful collection, supporting New York's Museum of Modern Art, the Greenpark Foundation and The Paley Museum.

T here can be few better examples of the gift of respite than Paley Park in Manhattan, which sits like a pocket of calm in the coat of a constantly rustling metropolis. Opened in 1967 on East 53rd Street between Madison and Fifth Avenues, it was a present to the public from William S. Paley, the pioneering president of CBS, in memory of his father Samuel Paley.


On Collecting: William S. Paley



Learn more about William S. Paley’s collecting on this episode of Monocle’s On Culture podcast.


The park – described by The New York Times as “a corner of quiet delights” when it first opened its gates – is today owned and run by the Greenpark Foundation, just one cause that will benefit from the sale of important works from Paley’s extraordinary art collection, furthering the legacy of his remarkable gift to the people of New York more than half a century ago. Tired pedestrians can relax, knowing that they can continue to find relief in this haven of honey locust trees, with its 20-foot-high waterwall that cushions the sound of rush-hour traffic and the green embrace of its vertical lawns of English ivy.

“My father loved the great artworks he collected.”
- William C. Paley, Vice President of the William S. Paley Foundation

The auction of over 20 works, including masterpieces by Francis Bacon, Pablo Picasso, Auguste Rodin, Kenneth Noland and Morris Louis, will also support The Paley Center for Media and The Museum of Modern Art, two organizations woven into the DNA of Paley’s life and work, which were both driven by a progressive spirit. The Paley Center was founded by Paley in 1975 to collect, preserve and interpret television and radio programming and – most importantly – to make these programs available to all. It was the first institution to present the history of broadcasting to the public. “Some of my closest friends thought I was buying into a gimmick,” Paley recalled about his early days in television. “I sat back with such enthusiasm for it. I couldn’t understand anybody having any doubt about the future of this medium.”

Paley, the broadcasting maestro who transformed the radio and television experience for generations of Americans, was, perhaps understandably, a collector informed by an overriding enthusiasm for the new and the experimental. So, the third recipient to benefit from the auction of works is particularly apt: MoMA, the New York museum that was to be a constant passion for the entrepreneur from the 1930s to his passing in 1990 and of which he was at various points trustee, president and chairman. Paley bequeathed some of greatest works in the museum’s collection, including Picasso’s enigmatic Boy Leading a Horse (1905) and Cezanne’s shimmering L’Estaque from 1882.

MoMA will now be the recipient of a new endowment at The Museum of Modern Art, established by the Paley Foundation to support MoMA’s ambitious goals in digital media and technology and to provide for new acquisitions, the Greenpark Foundation (which owns and operates Paley Park) and the Paley Museum. “My father loved the great artworks he collected,” recalls his son William C. Paley, Vice President of the William S. Paley Foundation. “It’s deeply satisfying that the Foundation is able to use this group of works from his collection to further support MoMA, to which he was so dedicated.” William S. Paley’s philanthropy was constantly forward-thinking. But, should all this progress and innovation become tiring, well, you know where you can rest up.

Impressionist & Modern Art Auctions and Exhibitions Contemporary Art

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