From Modern to Masters, Hunter’s Hester Diamond

Shoulders jumping in movement with his chuckle, David Diamond recalls some of the bickerings that took place around the dinner table as a child, conversations which usually circulated around art. This squabble, in particular, was in response to his father, Harold, informing the family of a sale he made from their personal collection — a Picasso Dora Maar portrait he sold for a measly $65,000, a price he argued was great.

For reference, in 2004 Sobethy’s sold Picasso’s “Dora Maar au Chat” for $9.2 million.

Director of the Hunter College Galleries, professor Joachim Pissaro, and David Diamond joined Hunter@Home for the virtual event honoring the expansive art collection and life of his late mother, Hester. Featured in the discussion were words from Diamond herself, immortalized in a filmed interview by Hunter students in prior years.

On the left, a young Hester Diamond. To the right, professor Joachim Pissaro (upper left) and David Diamond.

Diamond’s love affair with art began while attending Hunter College High School which at the time occupied the gothic Thomas Hunter building. 

To accommodate the 81,000 WAVES–Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, part of the United States Navy’s Women Reserve–Diamonds’ school day ended at 1 p.m. To fill in her spare time, she spent the remainder of her day at the MOMA. 

“I would spend a very long time standing in one gallery at MOMA, trying to figure out if Picasso put this object over there, in the first picture I looked at, how come in the second picture he put it over there? What was he saying, what was he trying to accomplish in doing this?” said Hester in her video interview.

Despite pursuing a degree outside of art, and working for some time removed from the art world, Hester finally cinched a job at an antique shop in Manhattan. Soon after, the Diamonds’ left their current occupations, Hester a social worker and Harold a teacher, to work full time on their perspective careers in the art world, Hester as an interior decorator and Harold as an art dealer. 

Together, Diamond and her husband built an extraordinary collection of modern art, one that was always changing to accommodate their next new piece.

“Growing up, you don’t know that anything that turns out to be extraordinary, actually is extraordinary!” said David in regards to growing up in a home full of masterpieces. 

Remarkable as their collection was, Diamond made a decision that would drastically alter the collection the Diamonds built. 

Images of the art in the Diamond’s New York City apartment. Modern paintings in the image on the left, Old Master featured on the walls with sculptures accenting the room in the image on the right.

After Harold passed away, Hester shifted their art collection from a modern one to a collection that observed the Old Masters – European paintings from before the 19th century.

David associated this shift with his mother’s early career in antiques. He believed his mother, who had studied classics at Hunter College, gravitated towards the style of the Old Master as she began to rediscover what she loved in art. 

David’s advice to aspiring collectors and young art enthusiasts echoed that of his mother’s advice when collecting art — you buy what you love.

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