Most Expensive Art Auction Ever: Paul Allen’s Collection Fetches Record $1.6 Billion
Art amassed by late Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen brought in more than $1.6 billion at Christie’s over two days of sales this week, setting the record for the most valuable single-owner art collection ever sold at auction–here’s which pieces have fetched the most.
“Les Poseuses, Ensemble (Petite version)” by Georges Seurat was the most valuable of the 60 artworks sold, fetching $149.24 million including fees, nearly five times higher than the 19th-century artist’s previous auction record.
“Verger avec cyprès” by Vincent Van Gogh also broke the artist’s previous record, selling for $117.2 million.
The most expensive lots were sold during a Wednesday evening sale, which focused on 60 of the most valuable pieces from Allen’s collection and fetched a collective $1.5 billion. Another 95 artworks from Allen’s collection went to auction Thursday and brought in nearly $116 million. The most expensive piece to sell Thursday was a sculpture by Claes Oldenburg, “Typewriter Eraser, Scale X,” that fetched $8.4 million. All of the estate’s proceeds will go toward philanthropies pursuant to Allen’s wishes, Christie’s said.
$922.2 million. That was the previous record for the most valuable art collection sold at auction. It was set just six months ago in May when Manhattan real estate mogul Harry Macklowe and his former wife Linda sold their art collection after their high-profile divorce.
Some 20 artists’ auction records were broken Wednesday night alone, or one-third of the artists featured in the sale. Artwork by Jasper Johns, Andrew Wyeth, Edward Steichen, Jan Breughel the Younger, Thomas Hart Benton, Max Ernst, Sam Francis and Diego Rivera were among the artists whose pieces fetched higher prices than at any other auction.
We estimated Allen was worth $20.3 billion in 2018, the year he died. He cofounded Microsoft in 1975 with his childhood friend Bill Gates. After his death, responsibility for his foundation went to his sister, Jody, who has been gradually selling off his estate.
Allen didn’t start collecting art until the early 1990s, after he visited the Tate Modern in London and realized he too could own world-class artwork, according to Deborah Gunn, who was associate director of art finance at Vulcan, Allen’s investment management company. Allen’s taste was varied and his collection spans more than 500 years of art history, from Botticelli to McArthur Binion. He was particularly drawn to pointillism and Jasper Johns’ “numbers” series, which he said reminded him of coding. Allen also enjoyed landscapes and scenes of Venice, of which the auction includes eight.
WHAT WE DON’T KNOW
The full size of the art collection Allen put together during his lifetime. A notoriously secretive collector, Allen did not publicize his art when he was alive, and even this auction of more than 150 pieces isn’t the full picture, according to Christie’s. Allen owned artwork that would be worth an additional $500 million, an investigation from Artnet found.