MoMA works from media tycoon’s collection to sell at Sotheby’s, worth $70 million (£61 million)

A trove of Modernist masterpieces, owned by the late media tycoon William S. Paley (1901-1990), are heading to auction for a staggering $70 million to $100 million (£61 million to £88 million). Once displayed in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the collection will be sold across Sotheby’s Modern and Contemporary art auctions held in London and New York.

I remember how my father loved the great artworks he collected, which were an important part of my own experience growing up,” reminisced William C. Paley, Paley’s son and vice president of the family foundation. “It’s deeply satisfying that the foundation is able to use this group of works from his collection to further support MoMA, to which he was so dedicated.”

Paley famously developed Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) into a communication empire after he joined in 1928 and soon after began building his art collection. He also served 50 years as a patron of MoMA as both chairman and president. Following his death in 1990, Paley’s foundation bequeathed 81 pieces from his collection to MoMA. Since the 29 artworks heading to auction are part of this long-term loan, MoMA can avoid any deaccessioning issues and use the funds how they see fit. 

Certain popular works from the collection will remain at the museum, such as Pablo Picasso’s (1881-1973) ‘Boy Leading a Horse’ and Paul Cézanne’s (1839-1906)‘L’Estaque’. The top lot, expected to fetch at least £30 million in London on 14 October 2022, is a small, disturbing triptych by Francis Bacon (1909-1992). This is the first time ‘Three Studies for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes’ has come to auction since it was purchased by Paley in 1963, the year it was painted by the artist.

Picasso’s ‘Guitar on a Table’ is another headliner lot, which is estimated to sell between $20 million to $30 million (£17 million to £26 million) when offered at auction in New York on 14 November 2022. Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s (1841-1919) mouth-watering painting of a pile of strawberries, ‘Les Fraises’, is also estimated to sell for a whopping $3 million to $4 million (£2.6 million to £3.5 million).

Proceedings from the sale will contribute towards an endowment to expand MoMA’s digital offerings and the museum’s “new strategic acquisitions“. The museum will also create more virtual walk-throughs of its exhibitions, produce more content with curators, and partner with a university to offer art courses.

Like many other museums, MoMA experienced a decline in footfall after the pandemic and an increase in online traffic. “We’re growing our digital audience, not losing any,” explained Glenn Lowry, the director of MoMA. “So, we realize we need to increase our capacity off-site and online.”

Paley’s 29 artworks will go under hammer in October and November 2022. Highlights from the collection will be exhibited in Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles and New York this fall.

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