Scene Last Night: Blackstone’s Hill Bronzes; Lufkin Birds

Frick Collection
J. Tomilson Hill, right, president of alternative asset management at Blackstone Group LP, and his wife Janine, at the Frick Collection for a private preview of an exhibition of their 34 Renaissance and Baroque bronzes. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Last year Tom Hill’s daughters Astrid and Margot were married. Then in December, the curators of New York’s Frick Collection came over to his house and took his Baroque and Renaissance bronzes away.

“Now we were really empty nesters,” said Hill, 65, the president of the alternative asset-management business at Blackstone Group LP. “It was devastating.”

Tom and Janine Hill came across as liberated art “parents” last night as the Frick’s exhibition of their collection opened at an evening reception for more than 800 members. The show, which opens to the public today and will be on view through June 15, provides intimate access to 33 bronzes.

“Tom said no vitrines,” the show’s curator, Denise Allen, shared as she leaned in brow-to-brow with a bronze of Mars cast from a model by Giambologna, a sculptor to the Medici grand dukes of Florence.

“If you really want to touch them, we can get you a pair of white gloves,” Hill joked in the entrance gallery, putting his arm around a security guard.

Another dramatic gesture saw all the statuettes removed from their modern bases, with their supports hidden in display pedestals.

“There’s a risk, but it’s OK. It’s a risk worth taking to have people feel what we feel,” Hill said.

Louis XIV

The Hills’ first bronze purchase was Hubert Le Sueur’s Venus, with flowing hair and downward gaze.

“That was in Louis XIV’s collection,” Tom Hill said. “When you are king, you get to do whatever you want, so he decided he was going to stamp it with his royal inventory number. Within a week of buying that bronze, we bought our first Andy Warhol painting. It was a hand-painted soup can.”

At home, the Le Sueur is placed in front of a Warhol portrait of Mao, said Janine Hill, a director at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The Hills have collected bronzes and contemporary works simultaneously. As in their home, the exhibition displays some of them together, including a chalkboard painting by Cy Twombly and an Ed Ruscha featuring words like “damsels” and “taxes” in calligraphy.

Ian Wardropper, the director of the Frick, said he met Tom Hill about 12 years ago at a lecture, and was impressed with his commitment to the field of Renaissance bronzes.

“He almost stopped collecting because it was so hard to find really good ones -- he could afford them, but he couldn’t find them,” Wardropper said. “Eventually he found advisers that helped him get access to things, and he’s built one of the finest collections in the world.”

Grumpy Marino

Tom Hill, standing in the exhibition, looked over at two statuettes paired together, a bull and a pacing horse.

“I thought I knew these bronzes, but I’m seeing them differently,” Hill said. He even praised the lighting and the wall color, a light gray, but said he wouldn’t replicate it in his home for fear of reprisal from his architect. “Peter Marino would be really grumpy.”

What he’s always looked for in art: “a punch in the nose,” he said. “The reason I love these works: they really make you feel the emotion expressed in the figures.”

Blue herons flew across the ceiling of the Plaza Hotel ballroom last night -- a video projection, to be precise -- as the National Audubon Society honored Dan Lufkin, a co-founder of Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette, the former investment bank.

“They were Cynthia’s favorite bird,” said Lufkin of his late wife, as he took a seat next to their children, Daniel Patrick and Aster Lee.

DLJ Founders

The event celebrated Lufkin’s work as an Audubon board member, a founder of Earth Day, and Connecticut’s environmental commissioner. He was praised for training policy makers to succeed in Washington, as well as for funding an avian biologist who increased the population of ospreys in Connecticut by bringing up suitcases of the bird’s eggs from Maryland.

Many also spoke of Lufkin’s leadership in asking business leaders and investors to take their civic obligations seriously, always with an eye on the bigger picture.

“People talk about return on investment,” Richard Jenrette, one of Lufkin’s partners in DLJ, said in a video tribute. “Dan talked about how we must not forget that life is about getting a return on life.”

At the lectern, Lufkin, 82, shared an idea to fight global warming, suggesting the price of gas be raised to $7 a gallon to discourage vehicle use and raise funds to repair infrastructure.

The event also marked the presentation of the Dan W. Lufkin Prize for Environmental Leadership, a $100,000 annual cash award Cynthia Lufkin helped to establish in honor of her husband. The prize, in its second year, was awarded to Patrick Noonan, a past leader of the Nature Conservancy and the Conservation Fund.

Ospreys and Chickadees

Robert Morgenthau of Northroad Capital Management said his favorite bird was the osprey, because his son wrote a school report on it. Actor Richard Kind chose the bald eagle for the same reason.

“I love the chickadees,” said David Ford, a former Goldman Sachs partner who has his own investment firm, DBF Associates Corp. He’s set to be elected chairman of the National Audubon Society on Saturday.

Peter Kiernan of Kiernan Ventures said he likes the lilac-breasted roller for its “dramatic lovemaking. It tries to show off for the females.”

The event raised $1.5 million, with 400 guests attending, to support Audubon’s conservation advocacy, education and science in the U.S. and 19 Latin American countries.

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