Obituary: Norton Simon
Wednesday 09 June 1993
NORTON SIMON, the American industrialist, was an avid art collector who leaves behind him one of the world's greatest private collections, most of which is housed in the Norton Simon Museum of Art, in Pasadena, California.
Simon was a restless man, who lasted only a few weeks at the University of California at Berkeley in the late 1920s before dropping out to go into business. He began his ascent to great wealth with the purchase of a California orange-juice company from the bankruptcy court in 1931. The company expanded rapidly into areas such as canning tomatoes, and Simon went on to gain control of a wide array of businesses, including Hunt Food and Industries and the Canada Dry Corporation, which he eventually merged into the Norton Simon Inc conglomerate.
Despite his huge success as a businessman, Simon always had many other outside interests. In 1969 he stepped back from the business world, having discovered at the age of 62 that running a large company was not as exciting as building a business empire from scratch. A career in politics was on his mind, and he contested the nomination to run as the Republican candidate for a California senate seat in the 1970 elections. He lost, but retained a public profile as a regent of the University of California, which led him to become a vocal opponent of the policies of Ronald Reagan, then Governor of California.
Increasingly, however, Simon's energies were being directed at the art world, as a museum benefactor, art connoisseur and collector, and this was to be the main focus of the last 20 years of his life.
Simon had got his first taste of the art-collecting world in the mid-1950s, when he went looking for paintings to put on the walls of a house he had built in Los Angeles. He chose a Gauguin, a Bonnard and a Pissarro, and thenceforward was a serious collector, acquiring works by Matisse and Picasso, a Raphael Madonna, and Indian and South-east Asian sculptures.
In 1965 Simon caused a stir at an auction in London when he fell into a dispute with an auctioneer who had just sold Rembrandt's portrait of his son Titus to another bidder. Simon demanded that bidding be reopened because the auctioneer had failed to notice the secret signal Simon has given him. Bidding did resume, and Simon outlasted his opponent to win the Rembrandt at dollars 2.2m.
By the late 1970s his interest was shifting away from painting and towards sculpture, and in 1980 Simon sold some of his canvases, including Picasso's Woman with a Guitar, and Girls on a Bridge by Edvard Munch. The latter achieved dollars 2.8m at a Christie's auction in New York, which was then the second highest price ever paid for a 20th-century painting.
Simon had been ill for several years, and had resigned as president of the Simon Museum in 1989.
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