Paul Allen’s masterpiece collection sells for record-breaking $1.6 billion (£1.34 million) at Christie’s

Paul Allen’s (1953-2018) spectacular collection has achieved an unprecedented $1.6 billion (£1.34 million) over two sales at Christie’s, becoming the most valuable private collection of all time. The first sale alone of 60 works fetched £1.5 billion (£1.26 billion) – the highest total ever recorded at a single auction. Allen’s estate will donate all proceeds from the landmark sales to philanthropic causes.

The evening was a tremendous success,” commented private dealer Michael Altman. “It started from very good material to never-again masterpieces. We’ll never see paintings that good by those respective artists ever again.

Despite geopolitical turmoil, rising inflation, and a looming recession, “Visionary: Paul G. Allen Collection” set countless records in New York on 9 and 10 November 2022. During the first auction, five works sold for more than $100 million (£83.8 million) each and fifteen for over $20 million (£16.8 million) each. The second auction of 95 works sold completely for a total of $116 million (£97.4 million). “Never before have more than two paintings exceeded $100 million in a single sale, but tonight we saw five,” marvelled Max Carter, Vice Chairman of 20th and 21st Century Art at Christie’s.

The historic sale eclipsed Christie’s previous single-evening high of $852.9 million (£716 million) in 2014 and the most valuable single-owner collection of Harry and Linda Macklowe, which achieved $922 million (£774 million) at Sotheby’s in May 2022.

The late Microsoft cofounder began collecting in the 90s, eventually hiring a team of 14 to curate and conserve his extraordinary acquisitions. Ranging over 500 years, Allen’s trove of masterpieces set more than twenty new artist records from Jan Brueghel the Younger (1601-1678) to Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) and Paul Jasper Johns (b. 1930).

The top lot was ‘Les Poseuses, Ensemble (Petite version)’, painted by Georges Seurat (1859-1891) in 1888. Depicting three nude women posing in the artist’s studio, the piece is considered the most significant Seurat painting still in private hands. A client of Xin Li-Cohen, deputy chairman of Christie’s Asia, purchased the little masterpiece for nearly $50 million more than the top estimate at $149.2 million (£125 million).

Another notable lot was Paul Cézanne’s (1839-1906) ‘La montagne Sainte-Victoire’ (1888–90), which Allen purchased for $38.5 million (£32.4 million) in 2001 and fetched a whopping $137.8 million (£115.8 million) at auction, exceeding the artist’s previous auction record set in 1999 of $60.5 million (£50.8 million). Andrew Wyeth’s (1917-2009) ‘Day Dream’ (1980), a whimsical portrait of a woman beneath a canopy executed in tempera on panel, also sold for more than seven times its high estimate of $3 million (£2.5 million) for $23.3 million (£19.6 million).

For people who are putting collections together, it’s an incredible opportunity. When are you going to find another Cézanne La montagne Sainte-Victoire? Or the Seurat? Or Gauguin’s Tahitian period? How about the Van Gogh?” asked New York art dealer Christophe van de Weghe.

Eager bidders from 19 countries participated on the first day, while bids from 31 countries were taken the following day. The tremendously successful sale defied market uncertainty, showing the demand for special artworks like those represented in Allen’s collection will not waver anytime soon.

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