Knoll Time Like the Present

Florence Knoll Bassett's private art collection is going to auction

Florence Knoll Bassett's designs for Knoll defined an era of corporate and domestic style. (Courtesy Knoll)

The art collection of the late Florence Knoll Bassett, the American designer who pioneered mid-century furniture and interiors, will be sold at the auction house Phillips this fall. The collection will reveal how the designer who defined American corporate style during the postwar era decorated her own private homes in New York and Florida. The auction will take place on October 25 and November 14 and features 50 pieces from her collection. 

Florence Knoll Bassett founded the self-named furniture company Knoll with her husband Hans Knoll in 1938, but was also the mastermind behind many of the company’s iconic pieces. She studied under some of the most prominent modernist architects including Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, and Marcel Breuer. The close association with the Bauhaus can also be seen in her interiors that dominated the American postwar corporate landscape, with IBM, GM, and CBS included in the roster of Knoll clients. 

Rufino Tamayo’s Five Slices of Watermelon (1959) is among the works being auctioned from Knoll’s collection. (Courtesy Phillips)

While Knoll’s designs have become ubiquitous across offices and homes, the art collection offers a more intimate look at the late designer’s personal life. Like the midcentury modern furniture she became known for, Knoll’s art collection is steeped with the abstract works of her artist peers and friends. According to The New York Times, some of the pieces that can be expected at the auction include Paul Klee’s Der Exkaiser, Rufino Tamayo’s Five Slices of Watermelon, and Morris Louis’s Singing. The private collection features an all-star lineup, including artists Josef Albers, Isamu Noguchi, and Pablo Picasso. 

Coincidentally, the tail-end of the Knoll Bassett auction will coincide with the auction of I.M. Pei’s collection—the architect passed away at a similar 102 this year, and Christie’s will be handling the sale of items from his estate.

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