Roy Neuberger

Roy R. Neuberger (born July 21, 1903) is an American financier who has contributed money to the cause of public awareness and publicity of modern art through acquisition of deserving pieces. He is the establisher and eponym of the investment firm Neuberger Berman.

Neuberger was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and spent his childhood in New York. Born into a wealthy Jewish family, he was orphaned at the age of 12. He describes himself as having been interested during high school in tennis and "the ladies." He matriculated at New York University, originally to study journalism, but grew restless and dropped out without obtaining a degree to pursue business.

His first job was working in the Manhattan department store called B. Altman and Company, through which he learned the ins and outs of business. Among the things he practiced selling were paintings, which nurtured his love of art.

After his job with B. Altman's, he sailed to Europe at age 20 on an inheritance from his parents and went to live in Paris. He lived his bohemian, Roaring Twenties existence there, where he visited the Louvre three times a week and met his lifelong friend Meyer Schapiro. He painted and studied art until 1928, when he read Floret Fels' biography of Vincent Van Gogh. Neuberger was startled when he learned how Van Gogh had only sold one painting, and was heartstricken to learn that Van Gogh, like so many other artists, lived in pain, poverty and misery.

He moved back to the United States and entered Wall Street in 1929. It was seven months before Black Tuesday. He started out with Halle & Steiglitz and sold short RCA shares, right through the stock market crash and well into the Great Depression. He founded Neuberger Berman in 1939 with Robert Berman. In 1950, Neuberger's firm started one of the first no-load mutual funds, the Guardian Mutual Fund.

By 1939, he had made enough money to buy the first painting that he would lend to rocket the artist to fame: Peter Hurd's Boy from the Plains. He allowed Nelson Rockefeller, another avid art collector, to use Boy from the Plains in a travelling American art exhibition. Rockefeller's exhibition travelled to South America, and many people in both South and North America were thus exposed to the art of Hurd.

Among the other artists whose works Neuberger has collected are Jackson Pollock, Ben Shahn, William Baziotes, Alexander Calder, Stuart Davis, Louis Eilshemius, Edward Hopper, Jacob Lawrence, Jack Levine, David Smith and especially Milton Avery, of whose works Neuberger purchased dozens. The first Avery he ever purchased was Gaspé Landscape, which he bought while it was snowing and wrapped neatly specially before going out during the snowstorm, determined to keep the painting intact to make the man famous. Neuberger still has Gaspé Landscape on the wall of his apartment. Neuberger also began donating works to institutions, among them the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum as well as many college and university museums.

His friend Nelson Rockefeller later became governor of New York and set up the State University of New York system. For his friend Neuberger, Rockefeller set up a museum as part of the new university where Neuberger could display a substantial amount of the art he had acquired. With the help of architect Philip Johnson, the Neuberger Museum of Art was built on the SUNY Purchase College campus and opened in 1974. Neuberger contributed more than 500 of his paintings toward the collection.

Although of Jewish descent, Neuberger absolutely avoids anything to do with religion and is a staunch atheist who has never seen any appeal in spirituality, especially Judaism. His son, Roy Salant Neuberger, who felt his life growing up without religion was empty, turned to Judaism and has since become famous in his own right as a speaker on Jewish spirituality. The two still have a close relationship, and Roy Neuberger Sr. has joked that he has "a wonderful son, but he has a disease".

Neuberger was married for many years to the late Marie Salant Neuberger, also a distinguished patron of the arts, and together they had three children and many grandchildren and even some great-grandchildren. He is still alive at 105 years old. In 1997, he published his memoir, So Far, So Good - the First 94 Years. His life as an art collector is chronicled in the 2003 book "The Passionate Collector: Eighty Years in the World of Art."

His son Roy S. Neuberger has written an autobiography telling how he went from his parents' assimilated world to being an orthodox Jew.


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