News and analysis
February 06, 2011

No. 7: Frances Lasker Brody

Frances Lasker Brody

Amount donated in 2010: Approximately $110-million

Beneficiary: the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens

Donor’s background: Ms. Brody inherited wealth from her father, Albert Lasker, widely considered to be a pioneer of modern advertising, and her husband, Sidney Brody, a real-estate magnate who built shopping centers.

Ms. Brody, who was 93 when she died in November 2009, bequeathed about $110-million to the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, in San Marino, Calif., where she was a member of its Board of Overseers for 20 years.

The donation came from the proceeds of the sale of her art collection, which included significant works by Alberto Giacometti, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso (including Picasso’s landmark “Nude Green Leaves and Bust”); her midcentury modern home in Los Angeles, which was designed by A. Quincy Jones; and miscellaneous valuables.

Ms. Brody didn’t become involved with the Huntington until she was in her 70s. She struck up a friendship with James Folsom, who directs the organization’s botanical gardens.

About nine years ago, she told Steven Koblik, president of the Huntington, that she was planning to sell her art collection. Mr. Koblik recalls with laughter that she read his mind and immediately quashed his hopes by bluntly stating, “You’re not getting the art.”

Before that art collection was sold, in May, the organization learned it was the sole beneficiary of her estate after her heirs received their inheritances, but Huntington officials had no idea how much money that would be. In October the Huntington received $15-million for its gardens as stipulated by Ms. Brody in her trust. And in November the institution received $80-million to finance its operations over time.

The sale of her house yielded another $14.1-million for the Huntington. According to the executor of her will, Robert Shuwarger, Ms. Brody hoped that her gifts would provide financial stability for the organization.

She carved her own reputation based on her formidable intellect and forceful personality. Never shy about expressing her opinions, Ms. Brody commissioned a ceramic mural in 1953 from Mr. Matisse, and when the artist sent her a sketch, she told him he had to try again.

Mr. Koblik recalled that her knowledge of art was vast but unsurprising given that as a child growing up in Chicago, Ms. Brody was “raised to be an intellectual and a grande dame.”

—Caroline Bermudez

View more profiles of donors who gave the most in 2010.