CHARLES BIERER WRIGHTSMAN, PHILANTHROPIST, IS DEAD AT 90
Published: May 28, 1986
Charles Bierer Wrightsman, a retired oil executive, art collector and philanthropist whose many gifts enriched the Metropolitan Museum of Art, died yesterday at his home in Manhattan. He was 90 years old and also maintained homes in Palm Beach, Fla., and London.
Among the donations made to the museum in his name and that of his wife, the former Jayne Larkin, were the eight Wrightsman Rooms, furnished and decorated in the style of 18th-century France, and three galleries for exhibiting furnishings and art objects from the same period.
Among the paintings that he gave to the museum were works by El Greco, Vermeer, Rubens, Georges de La Tour, Jacques-Louis David and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.
In 1979, hailing the Wrightsmans' gift of an El Greco and a de La Tour, Philippe de Montebello, the museum's director, said:
''They set the highest possible standards of excellence for all acquisitions, a goal to be reached for even if rarely to be obtained. Our debt to the Wrightsmans is, once again, beyond measure.'' Controlled Standard Oil of Kansas
Mr. Wrightsman amassed his fortune from oil. He was president of the Standard Oil Company of Kansas from 1932 to 1953 and owned a controlling interest in the company for much of that time.
He was born in Pawnee, Okla., on June 13, 1895, the son of Charles J. Wrightsman, himself a wealthy oilman, and the former Edna Lawing. He attended Phillips Exeter Academy, Stanford University and Columbia University. During World War I, he flew with the Naval Reserve.
Mr. Wrightsman began his career as an independent oil producer in 1918, when he was 23 years old. He conducted a survey of Russian oilields in 1921 and went on to develop oil properties in Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Louisiana and California.
He was elected president of the re-organized Standard of Kansas in 1932, after leading a struggle for control of the company. At that time, he owned 10 percent of the stock and had criticized management for limiting its activities to refining.
Shortly after he gained control of the company, he sold its refinery and pipeline properties in Kansas to the Standard Oil Company of Indiana. Under Mr. Wrightsman, the restructured Standard of Kansas then engaged solely in production at its Texas properties. The company was liquidated in 1953 and its assets, largely owned by Mr. Wrightsman, were distributed among its stockholders. Played Tournament Polo
Mr. Wrightsman was known here and abroad in the 1930's as a tournament polo player and the owner of championship polo ponies that competed around the world. He abandoned the sport in the early 1940's.
But it was as an art collector and as a benefactor and trustee of the Metropolitan Museum that Mr. Wrightsman was best known. He became a trustee of the museum in 1956 and was named trustee emeritus in 1975, a position he held until his death.
The Wrightsmans' collection was described by The New York Times in 1961 as ''one of the most important private art collections in the world.'' In addition to paintings by Renoir and Vermeer, it included what was reputed to be, according to The Times, ''one of the finest collections of Louis XV furniture in the country.''
When it was learned in 1977 that the couple had purchased David's ''Antoine Laurent Lavoisier and His Wife'' for the museum at a cost of about $4 million, Mr. Wrightsman responded to questions: ''Mrs. Wrightsman and I lead a very quiet life and we try to avoid publicity.'' He explained, ''I had a father who told me, 'I never saw a deaf and dumb man in jail.' ''
Nonetheless, their purchases and donations often placed the Wrightsmans in the spotlight. Protest Over Goya Work
At a London auction in 1961, Mr. Wrightsman paid $392,000 for a 20-inchby 25-inch portrait of the first Duke of Wellington, attributed to Goya. A storm of protest greeted the possibility that the painting, with its rich historical associations - the Duke defeated Napoleon at Waterloo - would be removed from England.
As a result, Mr. Wrightsman offered to sell the painting to London's National Gallery at cost, and the museum accepted. Two weeks after that purchase, in a spectacular theft, the painting was taken from the head of the gallery's main staircase. It was recovered in 1965.
Early in 1978, in another widely publicized acquisition, the Wrightsmans bought a painting by the 17th-century Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens, a self-portrait with his wife and son, for a price believed at the time to be between $3 million and $4 million. Purchased from the collection of Baron Guy de Rothschild in Paris, the painting was described by an official of the Metropolitan Museum as ''the greatest Rubens in this country.'' The work was given to the Met in 19