Christie’s have announced that they will sell 150 masterpieces from the estate of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who died at the age of 65 in 2018. The anticipated sale is set to be one of the highest valued single-owner sales ever to come to auction.
Paul Allen was a childhood friend of Bill Gates, and the pair founded Microsoft in 1975. He became known as a serious art collector, as well as being an active philanthropist, in the 1990s. Over the course of his lifetime, he donated around $2 billion to various charitable organisations, including environmental causes and homelessness, as well as biomedical research. He was also actively involved in the cultural sphere, founding Seattle’s Experience Music project (now the Museum of Pop Culture) and the Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum.
His art collection has been estimated at a staggering $1 billion, and whilst the auction house has not announced all the works to be included in the auction, they have revealed that the sale will offer Jasper Johns’ Small False Start (1960) which carries an estimate of at least $50 million, and Paul Cézanne’s La Montagne Sainte-Victoire (1888-90), which last sold at auction for $39 million in 2001. Christie’s America’s Chairman, Marc Porter, stated that the Cézanne could resell for at least $100 million, and commented that Allen’s collection represented “groundbreaking” moments in various artists’ careers.
Allen certainly seemed to be an extremely active art collector, telling Bloomberg in 2015 that art collecting had always been “a very, very good investment for me.” The tech entrepreneur also lent a number of artworks for exhibitions during his lifetime, which could provide further clues as to what might appear in the upcoming sale. This includes Sandro Botticelli’s Madonna of the Magnificat (circa 1480-1489), Jan Brueghel the Younger’s The Five Senses: Sight (1625) and Canaletto’s The Grand Canal, Venice, Looking South-East from Saint Eustace to New Rialto Buildings (1783). More modern artworks he lent in the past include paintings by Edgar Degas, Pierre-August Renoir and Claude Monet. It is also known that he purchased works by Georgia O’Keeffe at auction, and even Roy Lichtenstein’s The Kiss (1962). In recent years, he bought a painting by Mark Rothko for $14.3 million, and one by Gustav Klimt for $40.3 million.
Allen’s sister, Jody Allen, commented that “to Paul, art was both analytical and emotional”, and elaborated on Paul’s wishes to donate the proceeds of the sales to charitable causes: “these works mean so much to so many, and I know that Christie’s will ensure their respectful dispersal to generate tremendous value for philanthropic pursuits in accordance with Paul’s wishes.” Christie’s CEO, Guillaume Cerutti, said the collection offered an “extraordinary quality and diversity of works” and that the auction house feels “honoured and privileged” to be selling such a collection.