Walt Disney Daughter’s Art Collection Expected to Bring in Over $14M at Auction

Photofest; Courtesy of Christie’s
Diane Disney and Ron Miller pose for pictures at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles on their wedding day: May 9, 1954; Wayne Thiebaud’s "Mickey Mouse" piece

The Ron and Diane Disney Miller collection includes 40 lots and features paintings, drawings and works on paper and sculpture, the sale of which will benefit causes close to the family.

Before she died in 2013 at the age of 79, Diane Disney Miller did all she could to document the life and achievements of her father, the man behind the world’s most famous mouse. As part of her efforts, she established the Walt Disney Family trust, a charity that benefits a number of organizations. This week, dozens of pieces that once hung in the San Francisco home of Disney Miller and her husband Ron will go under the hammer, in aid of this trust.  

The auction of the Ron and Diane Disney Miller Collection (expected to bring in over $14 million) is set to begin Wednesday evening and continue Thursday morning at Christie's in New York in support of causes such as the Jane Goodall Institute, the HALO Trust, the Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which is housed in Walt Disney Hall. The collection includes 40 lots of paintings, drawings, works on paper and sculpture. Disney Miller, the animator’s eldest daughter, seems to have inherited her father’s commitment to philanthropy and the arts, and the collection stems from this dedication to keeping his spirit alive. Highlights of the collection include pieces by artists who were influenced by Disney or who worked with Disney animators in one way or another. 

“One of the things that has always struck me about this collection is the incredible optimism of it,” Barrett White, executive deputy chairman of post-war and contemporary art at Christie's, told The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s sort of a celebration of the American landscape — whether that’s the 19th century paintings by Albert Bierstadt, which were these wonderful reflections of manifest destiny, or Richard Diebenkorn, capturing the beauty of California light and landscape in his Ocean Park paintings, or just the overall joy that an artist like Wayne Thiebaud brings to the table, in his wonderful depiction of Mickey Mouse. Ultimately, Walt Disney and the Walt Disney Company have brought this sense of optimism to America and to the world, and that feels very much like it follows through in the sentiment of the collection.”

Leading the auction is a Richard Diebenkorn work from his Ocean Park series, which will be auctioned off on Wednesday, in an evening sale of post-war and contemporary art. "Ocean Park #108," which is expected to fetch between $7 million and $9 million, is perhaps the most coveted of the series Diebenkorn made in his studio in the Ocean Park neighborhood of Santa Monica in 1978, which he initially began in the 1960s. During World War II, Diebenkorn had been dispatched to Hawaii to work in cartography alongside Disney animators, and it was believed to be there that he developed an eye for compressing three-dimensional imagery onto a two-dimensional plane, which became a key element within his later work.

“It is a true tour de force of the artist’s series,” says White. “Ocean Park is perhaps the most sought-after body of work Diebenkorn created. We know that when he was in the service, he interacted with artists that had been Disney animators. There’s a clear celebration of the California dream that is very evident in the Ocean Park pictures. They are simply ravishing beautiful paintings that are these odes to the glory of looking out the window in California and why so many people want to live in southern California — it’s a simply beautiful place — and the view that Disney brought to the world, which is one of wonder and a wide-eyed joy in taking in the world around you and celebrating it.”

Another highlight of the collection is realist Andrew Wyeth’s "Oliver’s Cap," which is expected to fetch $3 million to $5 million in the American Art sale on Nov. 20. “With Wyeth being one of the great pictorial storytellers, painters, of his generation and of the 20th century, there’s a great mood and mystery within the scene he’s painted, where the implication is that the sitter in it is actually absent,” says White. “Disney is all about magic, and there’s a story of magical thinking in the Wyeth that relates to that Disney sensibility.”

The piece with the most obvious connection to Disney is from Thiebaud, who apprenticed as an illustrator — drawing characters such as Goofy, Jiminy Cricket and Pinocchio — and who later became known for his bright paintings of everyday objects, from paint cans to pastries to lipsticks. The 1988 "Mickey Mouse" painting is expected to garner between $400,00 and $600,000.

“The Thiebaud 'Mickey Mouse' has a deep resonance with the family for obvious reasons,” says White. “It’s such a perfect, special gem of a painting that conveys a sort of optimism of America. It's a picture that makes you happy. One of the great contributions of the Disney family legacy is that they bring joy to us. They have brought joy to generations and generations of people. The Thiebaud sums up the overall family ethos and what they have given to us.”

Proceeds from the sale of "Mickey Mouse" specifically will fund programming initiatives at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, a 40,000 square-foot space Disney Miller helped create, filled with archival material and artifacts from the company. Other pieces in the collection — including works by Henri Matisse, Winslow Homer and Roy Lichtenstein — will benefit additional causes important to the family.

“These individual pieces will provide the owners with the same joy and enjoyment that the Disney Miller family got from them, but more importantly, their sale is going to primarily be funding the family’s philanthropic endeavors going forward,” says White. “So this is the perfect way to carry forward the legacy of a family that not only defines, in many ways, our visual and popular culture, but a family that has also been a great example of philanthropy and giving back to the community — to inspire others to do the same to support those charities that have been near and dear to them.”

Updated Nov. 15 at 10:42 a.m.