Since 2016, billionaire real estate tycoon Harry Macklowe and his ex-wife Linda Burg have feuded in court over assets during their contentious divorce proceedings. Disagreeing on the value of their impressive art collection, the couple were ordered to sell off the coveted trove. Sotheby’s have now auctioned all 65 artworks for a staggering $922.2 million (£741.9 million) in total, making it the most valuable private collection ever sold at auction.
“The art collection is the parties’ most valuable marital property,” wrote New York State Supreme Court Justice Laura Drager in her 2018 ruling. Harry and Linda had amassed the collection during their nearly six-decade marriage. Whilst Linda believed it was worth $625 million (£502.8 million), Harry argued it was worth $788 million (£634 million). Drager added “the sale will provide each party with needed cash to enable them each to enjoy their lifestyles.”
Two dazzling evening sales at Sotheby’s New York ushered the end of the multi-year saga for the wealthy octogenarians. The first batch in November 2021 garnered a record breaking $676 million (£544 million) for 35 pieces, becoming the most valuable auction in Sotheby’s 277-year history. The second and final sale of 30 lots was held this week on Monday, estimated to fetch between $167.6 million to $236.4 million (£134.8 million to £190.1 million). Every single lot was sold, bringing in a whopping $246.1 million (£198 million) including fees.
“I’m thrilled. Not by the economics, but by the quality being recognized by collectors,” said Harry Macklow after the sale. “Everybody endorsing the choices we made over the last 65 years was the greatest payback.”
Painted in 1960, “Untitled” by the inimitable artist Mark Rothko (1903-1970) emerged as one of the most noteworthy lots in the final sale. Buyers were magnetised by its powerfully emotive colour palette and attractive provenance – it had remained hidden from public view in the couple’s collection for nearly forty years. Estimated at $35 million to $50 million (£20 million to £40 million), the painting sold for $48 million (£39 million) with premiums.
“Rothko has created a landscape where we may lose ourselves,” explained the artist’s son, Christopher Rothko. “A painting becomes almost a world of its own, where we find ourselves caught up and lingering beyond our conscious intention to stay.”
Andy Warhol’s (1928-1987) final artwork – a self-portrait completed just months before the artist’s death – also made a hotly anticipated appearance, selling for $18.7 million (£15 million). Other landmark names in the modern and contemporary collection included Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966), Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985) and Willem de Kooning (1904-1997), Sigmar Polke (1941-2010), Gerhard Richter.
“This was really a testament to the classics, the greats,” concluded Brooke Lampley, Sotheby’s chairman and worldwide head of sales for global fine art.
The combined total has exceeded the previous record set by the Peggy and David Rockefeller collection in 2018. Collected over a lifetime and passed down over generations, the Rockefeller estate sold at Christie’s for $835.1 million (£671.9 million).