The sale was billed as “the largest and most rare art auction in history,” which experts say was no exaggeration.
It wasn’t long before such a bold prediction came true, as Christie’s auction of a staggering collection belonging to Paul Allen, the late Microsoft co-founder, broke records in New York, raising $1.5 billion and becoming the largest art auction in history. held.
On the first of two nights, Paul Cezanne’s La Montaigne Sainte-Victoire sold for $137.8 million, more than double the previous record for a piece by the French Post-Impressionist. Paul Gauguin’s Maternité II sold for $105.7 million, Georges Seurat’s Les Poseuses, Ensemble (Petite version) sold for $149.2 million, and Gustav Klimt’s Birch Forest sold for $104.5 million. .
Lucian Freud’s Large Interior, W11 (after Watteau) sold for $86.3 million and Vincent van Gogh’s Verger avec Cyprès sold for $117.2 million.
All were record prices for artists, according to Christie’s, and a spike in the burgeoning market for high-end art. The previous record was set in May with the sale of the Macklowe Collection, which raised $922 million.
Excitement swept the art world when it was announced that Allen’s collection was going up for auction. With pieces spanning more than 500 years, he spent the better part of three decades building his collection, which included more than 150 works by artists such as Renoir, Botticelli and David Hockney.
Los Angeles-based consultant Victoria Burns was one of the few figures in the art world to be invited to a private preview. She revealed that even experts were amazed at the works for sale. “It is very rare to see this quality of work outside of museums,” she said, adding that the Allen collection was unique not only for its excellent quality but also for the diversity of periods and styles it contained.
“Paul Allen was a very educated collector and he didn’t just buy big names, he bought the best of certain artists,” he said. “Some collections have a strong focus. This was diverse in terms of centuries and decades because he collected classical impressionist and modernist material up to contemporary art. That is unique. . . someone who looked at great art but didn’t necessarily focus on just one period.”
Allen co-founded Microsoft with Bill Gates in 1975 and became a major force in the world of art collecting after being inspired during a visit to London’s Tate Britain, where he was captivated by JMW Turner’s seascapes and pop art. by Roy Lichtenstein. He lent works to museums around the world and spent millions of dollars boosting the art scene in his hometown of Seattle.
Allen died in 2018 at the age of 65 after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Her sister, Jody, has since managed her estate and the proceeds from the auction will go to charity, as Allen wished.
Burns said the sale may represent the last of its kind because in today’s hyper-competitive art market it’s almost impossible for a single collector to replicate Allen’s achievement. “One has to recognize the eye of a connoisseur,” he said. “I can’t think of anyone who was so disciplined and connected; being able to find and acquire these works, because access in the art world is one of the biggest problems.
“Having the best dealers in the world offering you the best job in the world is unique. And there are a lot more players today than there were when he was buying, I don’t know who could do that at this level anymore.”