Anne Bass, the elegant, curious, and generous philanthropist who presided over New York’s high society in the 1980s, died on Wednesday at age 79 after a long illness.
A sharp-eyed art collector with a taste for French Impressionism, American Pop art, and the Abstract Expressionists, she leaves behind two daughters, novelist Hyatt and photographer Samantha, as well as her longtime partner, the painter Julian Lethbridge.
Bass was, by most accounts, more introverted than your standard-issue socialite (she once agreed to talk to a Texas Monthly reporter on the precondition that he not ask “anything personal”). But she represented a distinctly old-school sort of patron—one who viewed championing the arts as a kind of serious duty.
Over the years, she donated to or sat on the boards of the Fort Worth Art Museum, the New York City Ballet, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the New York Botanical Garden. She also gifted many of her own couture pieces to the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Bass studied art history and Italian literature at Vassar College. In 1965, she married Texas oil tycoon Sid Richardson Bass; the couple would go on to become one of the largest shareholders of the Walt Disney Company. They settled in Fort Worth, Texas, where she commissioned the architect Paul Rudolph to design her house in 1970. The home was surprisingly light-filled for a Brutalist structure, and decorated with Bass’s striking art collection, including a series of Andy Warhol portraits of her family, a classic Morris Louis pour painting, and a monumental Frank Stella.
In the early ’80s, the couple moved to New York, where they acquired a Rosario Candela apartment at 960 Fifth Avenue. Bass fused 1920s architecture with George II-era furniture and blue-chip art, including vibrant orange and yellow Rothkos (Shades of Red from 1961 and Number 1 from the following year) and a Monet painting of London’s Houses of Parliament. Her love of ballet was evidenced in one of the six original casts of Degas’s Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer, also on view in the apartment. It stood, like a companion, in front of Balthus’s 1955 painting Young Girl at the Window.
Despite her private nature, Bass still found her way into the gossip columns when, in the late 1980s, she separated from her husband, who would go on to take up with Mercedes Kellogg. She secured what was, at the time, the biggest divorce settlement in Texas history, amounting to around $200 million. And while she largely receded from the social circuit (and the headlines) by the 2000s, she re-emerged in 2007, when she and Lethbridge were held hostage at her Connecticut estate for a night by three men. (Her butler was later charged.)
In 2009, she coproduced the documentary Dancing Across Borders about her experience meeting a young dancer on a trip to Cambodia with the World Monuments Fund, and helping him get admitted to the American School of Ballet.
Asked by the Texas Monthly reporter if it was ever difficult having so much money, she recalled a conversation with her father after Sid had asked him for permission to propose.
“He told me how much he liked Sid but asked if I was sure I wanted to marry him. He said I should think about it because great wealth could breed a lot of unhappiness.” The reporter asked how she had replied. “I thought about it,” she said, “and I decided I could handle it.”
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