Roy R. Neuberger, 107, financier and art patron, died Dec. 24 in Manhattan. He began working on Wall Street in early 1929, and by short selling RCA stock, kept his investment losses to a minimum when the crash came that October. In 1939 he co-founded with Robert B. Berman the brokerage and investment firm Neuberger Berman, and continued to go to his office every day until he was 99.
Neuberger became a committed collector in the 1930s. While he said he applied his invest- ment skills to art collecting—each year buying more work than he had the previous year, and often purchasing many works by a single artist all at once—he also clarified his mission, stating, “I have not collected art as an investor would.. I collect art because I love it.” In 1948, for example, he bought 46 paintings by Milton Avery, who became a close friend. He eventually owned over 100 of the artist’s works.
Neuberger firmly believed in supporting living artists, and in making their work accessible to the public, never selling. Over the years he donated many works to more than 70 institutions in 24 states, including the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In addition to Avery, he collected Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Stuart Davis, Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe and Eva Hesse.
In 1965, Neuberger was offered $5 million for his collection by an anonymous buyer, whom he later learned to be New York governor Nelson A. Rockefeller. Two years later, Rockefeller instead offered to build a museum for Neu- berger’s collection at the State University of New York campus at Purchase if he donated the works. The museum opened in 1974 in a building designed by Philip Johnson. From Neuberger’s initial donation of 108 artworks, the museum’s collection has grown to over 6,000 examples of modern, contemporary and African art. Neuberger continued adding to the museum’s holdings and in 1984 donated $1.3 million.
Neuberger served as a president of the American Federation of Arts from 1958 to ’67, and in 2007 was awarded a National Medal of Arts by President Bush. At his 100th birthday celebration at the museum, he told the New York Times: “I liked adventure-some work that I often didn’t understand. For art to be very good it has to be over your head.”
Nassos Daphnis, 96, abstract painter, died of Alzheimer’s on Nov. 23 in Provincetown, Mass. Born in Greece, he emigrated to the U.S. as a teenager and worked at his uncle’s shop in Manhattan’s flower district, where he began making drawings of plants. Daphnis showed paintings of Greek scenes and myths rendered in a naive style as early as 1938, but his work underwent a radical change during the 1940s. After witnessing vast destruction while serving in Europe during World War II, he returned to New York and began to depict ruined land- scapes thickly painted with a palette knife. His work soon evolved into soft biomorphic forms, and in the ’50s he began making his signature hard-edge geometric compositions—incorpo- rating stars, circles, squares, rectangles—in bold colors, contrary to the prevailing Abstract Expressionism. In 1959, Leo Castelli gave Daphnis a solo show, which launched his career. He exhibited with Castelli for over 30 years. In 1975 he created The Continuous Painting, filling a gallery with an 86-foot-long installation of roughly 10-foot-tall linked canvases bearing four-pointed stars. Daphnis was also a horticulturist who developed and named several popular strains of tree peonies, including Hephestos, Nike, Pluto and Gauguin. He most recently showed with Anita Shapolsky Gallery in New York, in 2007.