Most Expensive Art Auction Ever: Paul Allen’s Collection Fetches Record $1.5 Billion

Forbes
Published 2 months ago
Christie’s Presents Highlights from the Visionary: Collection of Paul Allen in London

TOPLINE

Art amassed by late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen brought in more than $1 billion at Christie’s Wednesday evening, setting the record for the most valuable single-owner art collection ever sold at auction only one day into a two-day sale–here’s which pieces have fetched the most.

KEY FACTS

Les Poseuses, Ensemble (Petite version)” by Georges Seurat was the most valuable artwork sold during the sale so far, fetching $149.24 million including fees, nearly five times higher than the 19th-century artist’s previous auction record.

Paul Cézanne’s “La Montagne Sainte-Victoire” sold for $137.8 million, nearly doubling the artist’s auction record.

Verger avec cyprès” by Vincent Van Gogh also broke the artist’s previous record, selling for $117.2 million.

Maternité II” by Paul Gauguin realized $105.7 million, just over three times the previous record for the most valuable work by Gaugin to sell at auction.

Birch Forest” by Gustav Klimt fetched $104.6 million and broke the artist’s previous auction record, the $59 million his “Bauerngarten” fetched in 2017.

Lucian Freud also set a new artist record, with his “Large Interior, W11 (after Watteau)” selling for $86.2 million.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Another 95 artworks from Allen’s collection will go to auction on Thursday during a day sale. The pieces on sale are estimated to fetch lower prices than those that sold Wednesday, with the most expensive–a sculpture by Claes Oldenburg, “Typewriter Eraser, Scale X”— expected to sell for as much as $7 million. All of Allen’s estate proceeds will go to the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.

BIG NUMBER

$922.2 million. That was the previous record for the most valuable art collection sold at auction. It was set just six months ago in May when Manhattan real estate mogul Harry Macklowe and his former wife Linda sold their art collection after their high-profile divorce.

SURPRISING FACT

Some 20 artists’ auction records were broken Wednesday night alone, or one-third of the artists featured in the sale. Artwork by Jasper Johns, Andrew Wyeth, Edward Steichen, Jan Breughel the Younger, Thomas Hart Benton, Max Ernst, Sam Francis and Diego Rivera were among the artists whose pieces fetched higher prices than at any other auction.

FORBES VALUATION

We estimated Allen was worth $20.3 billion in 2018, the year he died. He cofounded Microsoft in 1975 with his childhood friend Bill Gates. After his death, responsibility for his foundation went to his sister, Jody, who has been gradually selling off his estate.

KEY BACKGROUND

Allen didn’t start collecting art until the early 1990s, after he visited the Tate Modern in London and realized he too could own world-class artwork, according to Deborah Gunn, who was associate director of art finance at Vulcan, Allen’s investment management company. Allen’s taste was varied and his collection spans more than 500 years of art history, from Botticelli to McArthur Binion. He was particularly drawn to pointillism and Jasper Johns’ “numbers” series, which he said reminded him of coding. Allen also enjoyed landscapes and scenes of Venice, of which the auction includes eight. 

WHAT WE DON’T KNOW

The full size of the art collection Allen put together during his lifetime. A notoriously secretive collector, Allen did not publicize his art when he was alive, and even this auction of more than 150 pieces isn’t the full picture, according to Christie’s. Allen owned artwork that would be worth an additional $500 million, an investigation from Artnet found.