Metropolitan to Receive $20 Million From Brooke Astor Estate, After Prolonged Legal Battle

Thanks to a legal settlement finalized by the New York attorney general, the Metropolitan Museum is to receive $20 million from the estate of longtime benefactor and trustee Brooke Astor, who died at age 105 in 2007. The fate of Astor’s estate has been hotly disputed between her heirs and the institutions she wanted to support.

Brooke Astor’s son Anthony D. Marshall was convicted in 2009 for stealing millions of dollars from her as her financial guardian, and had wrongly sold a Childe Hassam canvas, “Flags, Fifth Avenue” (1917), that was meant to go to the Met. Marshall profited $2 million in a commission from the sale of the painting through a dealer. $3 million of the Met’s $20 million settlement is marked to cover all claims to the Hassam, but the whereabouts of the painting remain unknown.

Astor also donated some of her $100 million fortune to charities including the New York Public Library, Brooklyn Museum, Carnegie Hall, and NYU, as well as establishing a $30 million Brooke Astor Fund for New York City education. The Met’s deservedly self-satisfied press release is copied in full below. [ArtsJournal/Press Release]

Statement by The Metropolitan Museum of Art On Settlement of the Brooke Astor Estate

(March 28, 2012)—The Metropolitan Museum of Art is deeply gratified that the charitable intentions of the late Brooke Astor, our longtime and beloved Trustee and benefactor, have been honored in the settlement agreement reached today among the beneficiaries of her estate.

Under this settlement, the Museum will receive approximately $20 million from the estate, which will be used to support the institution’s curatorial programs and art acquisitions, as Mrs. Astor wished.  She was a dear friend and generous supporter of many curators here, as well as a longtime member of our Trustee Acquisitions Committee. The Met is especially pleased that her final bequest will cap a lifetime of giving to the collection and to those responsible for preserving, studying, and exhibiting it to the public.

As the settlement makes clear, $3 million of the funds assigned to the Metropolitan are given in recognition of the Museum’s claim for proceeds from the sale of a painting from Mrs. Astor’s personal collection—Childe Hassam’s Flags, Fifth Avenue (also known as Up the Avenue from 34th Street, May 1917). Although Mrs. Astor bequeathed this iconic work to the Metropolitan, it was wrongly sold in 2002.  The painting’s current whereabouts are unknown. The Museum continues to regret that it will be unable to display the work for its public as Mrs. Astor so long hoped.

The Museum thanks the Office of the New York State Attorney General—under incumbent Eric Schneiderman and his predecessor, Governor Andrew Cuomo—which has consistently advocated for Mrs. Astor’s wishes.  We also extend thanks to the office of the Manhattan District Attorney, under both former D.A. Robert Morgenthau and his successor, Cyrus Vance. This office defended Mrs. Astor’s clear, original intention to leave significant portions of her estate to charity.  We also thank our fellow charitable beneficiaries, particularly the New York Public Library, with whom we have worked for so long to make this settlement possible.

Above all, we are deeply grateful for this final, and especially meaningful, demonstration of the great affection and support bestowed upon this institution by one of the most devoted philanthropists of the 20th century.  Mrs. Astor’s magnanimity, impact, and influence remain an indelible blessing for those of us at the Met who were privileged to know her, as well as for our visitors from around the world who will continue to benefit from her generosity for generations to come.

— Kyle Chayka