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The ordinary couple who amassed an extraordinary collection of modern art


On the surface, Herbert Vogel and his wife, Dorothy, lived an ordinary life in New York. Mr Vogel, who died on Sunday, aged 89, used to work nights sorting mail at the city's post offices, and his wife was a reference librarian in Brooklyn. But over the years, the couple built up one of the world's most unlikely – and most significant – collections of modern art, and bequeathed much of it to the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

The Vogels' unlikely journey began in 1962, when they came to Washington on their honeymoon and spent several days visiting the National Gallery and other museums. Upon returning home, they began to buy a few pieces by artists they met.

Quite unlike many collectors, they were not wealthy, living and collecting their entire lives on their salaries and pensions. The couple did not, however, sell a single piece until the National Gallery acquired much of their collection in 1991. Estimates of its value range well into the millions. "We could have easily become millionaires," Mr Vogel told the Associated Press in 1992, adding: "But we weren't concerned about that."

In time, over almost 50 years, they amassed more than 5,000 works, including paintings, drawings and pieces that defied classification. They bargained directly with the artists, sometimes buying on instalment. Once, they received a collage from Christo in exchange for cat-sitting.

When Mr Vogel retired in 1979, he used his pension to buy more art. He and Dorothy began to think about their legacy, and many top museums came calling. Eventually, after years of negotiations, they agreed to send the heart of their collection to the National Gallery. When curators began to catalogue the collection, it took five full-size moving trucks to transport the Vogels' art from their apartment.

Despite his obvious penchant, Mr Vogel could not always articulate why he liked certain works or what he looked for collecting. "I just like art," he said in 1992. Washington Post