2020-03-24 05:33:51 UTC
Englishman, aided by macaw, expanded Sotheby’s in U.S. and Latin America
By James R. Hagerty, March 12, 2020, Wall St. Journal
Peregrine Pollen worked as a Latin teacher, attendant in a mental hospital and nightclub organist before settling into a career at the Sotheby’s auction house.
Sotheby’s, then based in London, in 1960 sent the Oxford-educated Mr. Pollen—an Englishman known for wearing cowboy boots, including, on occasion, while playing tennis—to New York to represent the auction firm. Four years later, he oversaw the acquisition of Parke-Bernet Galleries, a New York-based rival.
Mr. Pollen ran the combined New York business and brought theatrical flair to auctions. In 1967, Parke-Bernet auctioned coins and other treasures salvaged from Spanish ships that sank off Florida during a storm in 1715. Mr. Pollen found a talking macaw to enliven the proceedings and projected silhouettes of ships on a wall behind the podium.
He once rolled up four impressionist paintings inside a Beatles poster to smuggle them out of Buenos Aires.
To expand the clientele for auctions, Mr. Pollen opened a discount outlet, PB 84, on East 84th Street in Manhattan. Sales were aimed at young couples furnishing their homes. In 1968, PB 84 sold a set of 15 glasses for $1.
After retiring, he planted more than 6,000 trees at Norton Hall, a family estate in the Cotswolds area of England. He died Feb. 18 at age 89.
One of his daughters, Bella Pollen, said her father died after being hit by a truck in a town near his home.
In her 2017 memoir, “Meet Me in the In-Between,” Ms. Pollen recalled that her father wore heavily-rimmed glasses giving him “a bookish, if somewhat Clark Kentish, look.” He could be stern, she wrote, but also instigated Sunday-morning pillow fights.
While building up the New York arm of Sotheby’s, Mr. Pollen opened branches in Los Angeles, Buenos Aires and São Paulo. He estimated that he flew 100,000 miles a year.
“The great excitement in this job is the hunt,” he told Home Furnishings Daily in 1969. “You never know what you will find inside people’s houses.”
Peregrine Michael Hungerford Pollen was born on Jan. 24, 1931, in Oxford, England. His father, Walter Pollen, who lost a lung after exposure to mustard gas during World War I, was a director of a steel company. His mother, the former Rosalind Frances Benson, was from a prominent banking family.
“Art and auctions are woven into my family’s life,” Mr. Pollen told the New York Times in 1966. One branch of the family had a collection of paintings including four Rembrandts. “The money ran out in the 1950s, but we still have some nice pictures,” Mr. Pollen said in a 2017 interview with the Sunday Times of London.
He was educated at Eton and Oxford University, where he recalled winning a bet by managing to run a mile, ride a horse a mile and row a mile, all in less than 14 minutes.
In the mid-1950s, he served as an aide to the British colonial governor of Kenya, during the Mau Mau rebellion.
After 12 years in New York, Mr. Pollen returned to London in 1972 and served as executive vice chairman of Sotheby’s until he retired a decade later.
In a 1998 book, “Sotheby’s—Bidding for Class,” Robert Lacey wrote that Mr. Pollen was passed over as a potential chairman of the company partly because he was outspoken and prone to picking fights with his boss, Peter Wilson. “The long hair and cowboy boots which had charmed America did not go down so well” at the London headquarters, Mr. Lacey wrote.
Mr. Pollen married Patricia Barry in 1958. They divorced in 1972 but remarried six years later. She died in 2016. He is survived by five children and 11 grandchildren.
In an interview, Bella Pollen recalled that her father met her at a train station after she was expelled from a boarding school at age 15. Instead of scolding her, she said, he bought her a Bloody Mary.