Microsoft founder’s $1 billion (£900 million) art collection poised to break auction records

The exceptional collection of late Microsoft founder Paul Allen (1953-2018) is on display in London ahead of what’s expected to be the largest ever auction in history at Christie’s, New York. Valued in excess of $1 billion (£900 million), the collection includes more than 150 masterpieces spanning 500 years. 

Allen co-founded the technology company alongside Bill Gates in 1975 and became a prolific philanthropist across brain science, cell science, and immunology. He began publicly sharing his art collection with museums around the world in the late 1990’s, but this was often through anonymous loans.

The art collecting was very personal [to Allen], in spite of the staggering range,” told Max Carter, head of Impressionist and Modern Art at Christie’s. “The common thread is this one man’s vision. There was no advisor, this was something that he did himself, and buying at the highest levels, decisively and virtually without mistakes, which is something you very seldom see.”

Christie’s slowly unveiled highlights from the private collection over the course of several weeks, with only two works identified in the initial announcement. We now know Allen collected works by some of the biggest names in art history, including Paul Gaugin (1848-1903), Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), Claude Monet (1840-1926), Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986), Francis Bacon (1909-1992), Lucian Freud (1922-2011), and David Hockney (b. 1973).

Some of the highest valued works are estimated in excess of $100 million (£88.8 million). Georges Seurat’s (1859-1891) Les Poseuses, Ensemble (Petite version) (1888) last appeared at auction for the first and only time in 1970. Another top lot is Paul Cézanne’s (1839-1906) seminal painting La montagne Sainte-Victoire (1888–90), which demonstrates the foundation of modernism.

Speaking in a 2018 interview, Allen explained “I’m always trying to figure out where the future’s going, looking outward in a certain way, so maybe that’s why I find landscapes interesting, it’s as if they are windows onto different realities.

Fourteen of the paintings, including Cézanne’s La montagne, will be on display in London this weekend, with other exhibitions set to take place in Paris, Los Angeles and Shanghai. Avid collectors can bid for Allen’s masterpieces during the unprecedented auction “Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection”, which will take place over two evenings on 9th and 10th November 2021. The money raised will be distributed between a variety of philanthropic causes Allen supported.

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