Museum benefactor Muriel Butkin's esteemed collection up for online auction by Evelyn Theiss, The Plain Dealer

Submitted by Aspire on Wed, 09/09/2009 - 16:02.

 It's said that every piece of art tells a story, and Muriel Butkin certainly knew her art.

Now, with an online auction of much of what she and her husband, Noah, had collected, the public will see a greater glimpse of this very private couple's story, through the fine furniture, art and rare decorative objects they accumulated over their lifetimes.

Muriel Butkin was a renowned collector of French art, as Noah Butkin had been. Together, the Shaker Heights couple donated dozens of works to the Cleveland Museum of Art -- contributing to the museum's reputation for breadth, particularly in 19th-century paintings.

Noah Butkin, co-founder of a metals company and an art museum trustee, died in 1980; Muriel, died a year ago this summer at 92.

In 2001, the museum exhibited "French Master Drawings From the Collection of Muriel Butkin." She was fond of saying, "I collect drawings, not names." But the names included such well-known ones as Jean-Francois Millet.

This week, the remainder of the Butkin estate -- including more paintings (both were passionate about 19th-century French academic painting), 17th- and 18th-century silver, signed 17th-century French furniture (by such artisans as Durand and Delorme) and a far-ranging collection of Orientalia -- will be auctioned off.

The (most likely considerable) proceeds will go to the Cleveland Museum of Art, which had previously selected pieces from the estate to add to its permanent collection. Jack Stinedurf, director of development for the museum, says the money will go toward its building project.

The auction, which runs through Saturday, is being handled by Aspire Auctions, an auction house that recently moved to downtown Cleveland after several years on Larchmere Boulevard. Aspire competed with several major houses -- from Chicago and elsewhere -- for the job.

Courtesy Olga Kankova/AspireThis platinum-and-diamond bracelet highlights Imperial jade; it's one of the featured pieces of jewelry in the Butkin estate auction. The estimate is $5,000 to $8,000; many other jewelry pieces in the auction are estimated at $100 or $200.

Cynthia Colling, who co-owns Aspire with Michael Kondratov, says she thinks being a Cleveland business figured into the museum's decision to go with the firm.

"The Butkins were always supportive of Cleveland," she says, and bought much of the art and furnishings they owned through Cleveland dealers, including the well-known Marshall's.

Auctioning this estate is a coup for Aspire, which, in its new location, has doubled its space from 2,200 square feet to about 4,500. The Butkin estate's furniture and decorative objects take up most of that.

They also offer some insight into a woman who was not particularly social, and who would prefer to engage in conversations only with people who had a depth of knowledge in art and design.

Muriel Butkin was concerned with every detail -- she adored Scalamandre fabric and had even the drawers of her small dressing table lined with it. A bold little note inside in her handwriting remains: "Do not dust! Do not wash!" it warns.

Olga Kankova/AspireThis small commode with marquetry veneers and an inset marble top is by Gervais-Maximilien-Eugene Durand (French, 1870-1920). It's estimated at between $5,000 and $8,000.

Also drawing attention will be her immense collection of jewelry, all gifts from her husband. Highlights include an Edwardian diamond brooch in the graceful shape of a swallow, a deep green Imperial jade-and-diamond bracelet, and an enameled scarab brooch, circa 1900.

Muriel Butkin was a slim, immensely stylish woman, says Colling, who also handled the sale last spring of her wardrobe. That featured such names as Christian Dior (from 1957) and Ferragamo and included several Hermes scarves.

Jane Joseph, owner of the vintage boutique the Cleveland Shop, bought several pieces. She didn't know at the time that Muriel Butkin had been so knowledgeable about art.

"When I saw some of the Pucci-like prints alongside a plain Dior sheath and jacket, I was puzzled," Joseph says. "But now I can see she would have appreciated their colors and bold patterns."

Muriel likely would have worn those vivid pieces while at the couple's winter home in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Antiques dealer John Young was at the Aspire Auction preview reception on Friday. He knew Noah Butkin -- he'd sold him some of the jewelry that he gave to his wife -- and he met Muriel through him. Young was one of the few local people invited to dinner at their Tudor-esque home on Courtland Boulevard.

"They seemed to have many friends in Europe, many international friends," Young says. "A number of them came to Noah's memorial service at the art museum."

Noah Butkin, with whom he'd also lunch at the Theatrical, was "a tough and shrewd businessman who loved art," says Young. Noah, who often wore a homburg and smoked cigars, died a few days after suffering a heart attack at a Larchmere antiques store at age 61.

Muriel Butkin was a woman of quiet good taste, he adds, who bought her Parisian clothes in Paris, and through Halle Bros. department store.

Dixie Lee Davis, who met her at Halle's when she worked there and in later years as a customer at Saks Fifth Ave., says Muriel was a very proper, low-key and "pleasant-looking" woman who favored Pauline Trigere coats.

The couple had no children and did not belong to any country clubs; they were frequent travelers who spent the weeks around New Year's in Germany. Muriel Butkin became a strong supporter of the graduate art history program at Case Western Reserve University, where she funded conferences and symposia.

Heather Lemonedes, associate curator of drawings at the museum, wrote in an article that Butkin Fellows from Case would often gather for dinner on June 21 (a day celebrated by the French culture she loved), with Muriel Butkin as their guest when her health allowed. They would celebrate what they called "Saint Muriel's Day," in honor of her largesse.

Online auction:

What: Auction of the Muriel S. Butkin Estate, benefiting the Cleveland Museum of Art.

When: Bidding is in progress and continues through Saturday, with staggered closing times for lots. Auction is online-only.

How: For directions, to participate or to view items, go to


Stop the publicity!!!

My wife and her boss went by Aspire to check out the things on auction and she is "watching" an item, so I don't want people going to the site and bidding.

But, as a loyal buy NEO, support coop members, grow small business entrepreneur I say go to this online auction and buy something!

Thanks for posting on this!

Disrupt IT