Obituary: Gerald Cantor

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Gerald Cantor was a wealthy financier and philanthropist in the United States who started out as a hot-dog seller and went on to amass one of the most comprehensive collections of Rodin sculpture.

As the guiding light of Cantor Fitzgerald LP, a New York securities brokerage house, he devoted much of his fortune to supporting the arts, particularly the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which he endowed with a roof garden and a number of galleries.

His love-affair with Rodin's work began when he was still in his twenties. "I was at the Metropolitan Museum and saw Rodin's Hand of God, and I was fascinated by it," he once explained. "In 1947 I saw another version in a Madison Avenue gallery and I bought it"; in the mid-1950s, "I bought The Kiss and then it really started." Such was his passion that by the time of his death he had given away almost 450 Rodin sculptures to various museums and institutions and still held about 300 in a private collection.

Cantor once described the feeling he first felt for Rodin's work as "a source of strength, power and sensuality". Asked to elaborate he said: "Truthfully, I can't tell you more. Something hit me." By 1968, Cantor already owned 68 pieces.

After he married Iris Bazel in 1977 the couple became one of the most important benefactors of fine art in New York through the founding of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation. They liked to stroll in the galleries named after them and overhear visitors discussing Rodin because, as Cantor said, "Nobody knows who I am."

Not content to limit his largesse to the Met, Cantor gave the Brooklyn Museum 60 pieces by Rodin and funded a 46-seat auditorium. To the Los Angeles County Museum he gave 52 pieces for a sculpture garden as well as dozens of 19th- and 20th-century works including pictures by Alfred Sisley, Max Beckmann and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.

In the 1980s Cantor Fitzgerald became the first Wall Street firm to offer 24-hour access to the US Treasury securities market. The astonishing profits helped to fund a private museum beside Cantor's 105th-floor office in the World Trade Center which entered the Guinness Book of Records as the highest in the world.

Bernard Gerald Cantor was born a few blocks from the Brooklyn Museum in 1916. As a "destructive, inquisitive" little boy he liked to break open his toys, and at 15 he became a hot-dog vendor at Yankee stadium. "I only worked during Sunday doubleheaders," he later recalled, because "you could sell more things" in the delay between games.

Between 1935 and 1937 he studied law and finance at New York University and soon afterwards became a securities analyst on Wall Street; his initial interest in the law had cooled when he spotted a lawyer friend who had had to take a construction job on a public works project.

After serving in the army in the South Pacific during the Second World War, he established B.G. Cantor and Company, which would later become Cantor Fitzgerald. In financial circles he was known as an astute investor and a hard charger.

It was while Cantor was still in his twenties that he began what he called his "magnificent obsession" with the works of Rodin. Once asked whether his collection was the world's largest, he answered: "I learned from Andre Malraux that one never has the largest collection. One has the most important collection."

The Cantors also gave considerable sums to various medical charities and financed a sculpture garden at the White House in 1994. The following year he received the National Medal of Arts from President Clinton.

Bernard Gerald Cantor, businessman and philanthropist: born 17 December 1916; married Leona Witzel (one son), 1977 Iris Bazel; died Beverly Hills, California 3 July 1996.