Donald Blinken, Ambassador, Financier and Art Patron, Dies at 96


Mr. Blinken’s career took off in 1966, when he co-founded the investment group E.M. Warburg, Pincus & Company. He remained associated with the company until being appointed ambassador in 1994. That year, The Times described Warburg, Pincus as “the nation’s largest venture capital firm,” reporting that it had $4 billion under management from “blue-chip corporations, state pension funds and college endowments.”

Mr. Blinken had further impact as a hobbyist with an interest in the arts.

It began with a dispute over the custodianship of hundreds of paintings by Mark Rothko after his suicide in 1970 — “the biggest, most publicized and most protracted legal wrangle in art-world history,” The Times wrote in 1986. The contretemps inspired “Legal Eagles,” a movie starring Robert Redford that was released the same year.

In the mid-1970s, the executor’s of Rothko’s estate were dismissed, and Mr. Blinken — who had begun collecting Rothko’s paintings in the 1950s — became president of the Mark Rothko Foundation. He oversaw the donation of about 1,000 Rothko artworks to museums and dissolved the foundation he ran, sacrificing a potential source of personal power and avoiding any atmosphere of scandal that sometimes surrounds foundations with control over the work of canonical modern artists.

Kate Rothko, the artist’s daughter, pronounced the donations “a very happy ending.”

Donald Mayer Blinken was born on Nov. 11, 1925, in Yonkers, N.Y. His father, Maurice, was a lawyer who was credited with helping to persuade the U.S. government to support the establishment of Israel as a state. His mother, Ethel (Horowitz) Blinken, was a homemaker.

Mr. Blinken left Harvard College and joined the Army Air Corps in 1944, but the war ended before he could be sent into combat. In 1948, he graduated from Harvard with a bachelor’s degree in economics. He then worked in retail, including at the British company Marks & Spencer, which his father represented as a lawyer.

He married Judith Frehm, who was also from Yonkers, in 1958. Antony was born in 1962. In 1971, Donald and his wife divorced, and Antony and his mother moved to Paris. Mr. Blinken met Vera Ermer on a blind date, and they married in 1975.

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