Herbert Vogel, Art Collector, Dies

Despite modest means, the former postman and his wife spent much of their lives amassing a significant modern art collection, which they donated to the National Gallery.
The Vogels in Judith Shea’s King and Queen Ensemble. Photograph by Phil Charles.

During his life,
Herbert Vogel was proof that it doesn’t take a vast fortune or connections to have a powerful impact.
Vogel and his wife,
Dorothy, lived in a rent-controlled one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, but they also managed
to acquire more than 5,000 works by artists as diverse as Roy Lichtenstein, Sol LeWitt,
Cindy Sherman, and Gene Davis. The couple used Vogel’s salary as a night mail clerk
to fund their collection while living off Dorothy’s salary as a librarian.

The Vogels’ collection, which was estimated to be worth several millions of dollars,
was donated to the National Gallery in 1992. Until then, the works had been sitting
in the couple’s apartment along with their cats, turtles, and fish. According to
Herb and Dorothy, a 2008 documentary about the couple by Megumi Sasaki, it took five tractor-trailers
to transport the collection to Washington in its entirety.

Dorothy Vogel spoke in the film about why she and her
husband chose to donate their
collection to the National Gallery, saying it was because the
gallery is free, it
never sells donated works, and because having both had long
careers working for the
government, the Vogels thought that donating their collection
to a federal entity
would be like donating it to the country as a whole. The couple
had also visited the
museum on their honeymoon in 1962. In 2008, the Vogels worked
with the National Gallery
to distribute 2,500 of their works to 50 museums across the
United States
.

A 2008
Washington Post story about the Vogels
explored what
Herb and Dorothy said about its subjects and their unlikely success as collectors. “Part of the beauty
of the Vogels is that they aren’t so academic about what they like,” wrote
Rachel Beckman. “They act on intuition.” Despite having little in the way of formal art education,
and even less in means, the couple used their passion for modern art to become true
connoisseurs.

Herbert Vogel died in New York City on July 22 at the age of 89. He’s survived by
his wife, Dorothy. The
Post’s obituary for Vogel is
here.

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