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Mary Sayles Booker Braga, a woman of exquisite taste and style, was a noted connoisseur who carefully selected and purchased refined American, English and European furniture, art and decorative objects over her long life. A Mayflower and Roger Williams descendant, Mrs. Braga was born in 1921 in New York City to one of the country’s leading industrial families; her great-grandfather Frank A. Sayles founded a textile empire known worldwide for its quality and innovation.

Mrs. Braga attended Miss Hewitt’s and The Brearley schools in New York City, followed by The Foxcroft School in Middleburg, Virginia where she enthusiastically embraced her passion for the equestrian lifestyle. Summers were spent in the exclusive communities of Watch Hill, Rhode Island and Southampton, New York. A private individual, Mrs. Braga found early joy in objects and works of art, beginning her collection at age six with porcelain and silver, and later purchasing works from some of the most prominent Old Master and 19th Century Paintings and Drawings dealers in both New York and London.

Introduced to Europe first by her father at age twelve, she returned frequently with her husband, B. Rionda Braga, a sugar magnate from one of the world’s greatest sugar fortunes. By the 1920s, the Braga family business, Czarnikow-Rionda & Co., was the largest private sugar brokerage in the world. Braga’s Cuban sugar interests took the couple to England and Europe on a regular basis, where Mrs. Braga came to appreciate the aesthetic of the classic English country house and the life it inspired. There Mrs. Braga befriended a number of dealers and contemporary realist artists, among them the late Julian Barrow. Having met Barrow while visiting friends in London, Mrs. Braga invited him to the family home in Alpine, New Jersey, “Rabbit Hill”, where the artist took residence for several months. His intimate portraits and interiors, many of which are included in the present sale, seem to capture a sublime moment in time.

The Bragas raised their children in their homes in Alpine, New Jersey; Aiken, South Carolina; Fishers Island, New York; Hobe Sound, Florida; London and Scotland. In New York City, they contributed to numerous philanthropic and cultural causes. Through their friendships with Brooke Astor and John Pierrepont, the Bragas became involved in the efforts to restore Central Park, and specifically the Central Park Zoo.

Mr. Braga died in 1986. The following year, Mrs. Braga found a unique sanctuary in the Virginia countryside. She continued to indulge in her collecting and equine passions at “Oakendale,” a stone Colonial Revival mansion in the heart of Virginia horse country that was designed in the 1930s by William L. Bottomley, the architect famed for building gracious manors for his fashionable clients in exclusive enclaves. Complete with 837 acres of rolling hills, tranquil ponds and horse paddocks, “Oakendale” provided the ideal setting for the exceptional collections of paintings and drawings, furniture, silver and porcelain that Mrs. Braga assembled over a span of more than eighty years.

— Written by Tanya Hayes

We are pleased to be offering property from the Estate of Mary Sayles Booker Braga, Oakendale, in our Saturday, April 30th Fine auction, beginning at 11am.

For inquiries regarding the items in this sale please contact us at 518-751-1000 or

Take a tour of ‘Oakendale’, available for sale on Washington Fine Properties:

View the property listing for Oakendale >

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