Abby Greene Aldrich Rockefeller (1874-1948)

Rockefellers At Sunnyside

Abby Greene Aldrich Rockefeller was the fourth of ten children of Abby Pearce Truman Chapman and Nelson Aldrich, who built his fortune in the sugar and rubber trade, banking, and public utilities. Aldrich was also an influential United States Senator from Rhode Island for thirty years.

After marrying John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Abby began to adopt and share responsibility for the family’s philanthropic interests. She was also devoted to charitable concerns of her own, such as the Girl Scouts, the YWCA, and the American Red Cross, and she was crucial to the management of the family’s many homes—in New York, at Tarrytown, at Seal Harbor, Maine, and at Bassett Hall, where she and her husband stayed in Colonial Williamsburg.

Abby began collecting at an early age on European trips with her father. European and Asian works were first loves, tastes she shared with her husband. Although she and Junior also shared enthusiasm for eighteenth-century English and French furniture and the paintings of the Old Masters, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller’s other collecting ran in a very different direction. She is best known for her interest in modern art and American folk art, and her collections were unparalleled in her time or since.

She became interested in modern art after discovering the New York gallery of Edith Gregor Halpert in 1928. The next year, she was one of three women collectors who founded the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. In 1935, she donated numerous works to its collection and left the museum more works in her will. MoMA’s sculpture garden is named in her honor.

Perceiving substantial similarities between the modernist and folk aesthetics, Mrs. Rockefeller then began to collect folk art. She built a large and highly regarded collection of American folk art, most of which she donated to Colonial Williamsburg in 1939. The Rockefeller family financed the building in which this collection can now be seen.

Mrs. Rockefeller died in New York City in 1948.

In 1954, Mrs. Rockefeller’s son Nelson led a project to commission a window for the Union Church of Pocantico Hills as a memorial to his mother. The result was the Rose Window, Henri Matisse’s last completed work, which was dedicated on Mother’s Day in 1956.

Image shows Mrs. Rockefeller, along with her husband John D. Rockefeller, Jr., at Washington Irving’s Sunnyside on October 4, 1947.