Wealth

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s art collection tops $1.5 billion at auction

Art handlers hold a painting titled “La montagne Sainte-Victoire” by Paul Cezanne (estimate on request: in excess of $120,000,000) during a photo call to present the highlights from the estate of the philanthropist and co-founder of Microsoft, Paul G. Allen in London on Oct. 14, 2022.
Wiktor Szymanowicz | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Christie’s sold 60 works from the Paul G. Allen Collection for over $1.5 billion Wednesday night, as wealthy collectors around the world shrugged off economic and crypto worries to invest in trophy artworks.

Five paintings broke the $100 million mark, including the night’s top seller — Georges Seurat’s “Les Poseuses, Ensemble,” which sold for $149.2 million. Several works sold for three or four times their estimates, with several artists setting new records at auction, including Vincent van Gogh, Edward Steichen and Gustav Klimt.

The sales total of $1.506 billion shattered the previous record for the most expensive collection ever auctioned, set by the Harry and Linda Macklowe collection auctioned at Sotheby’s for $922 million. The sales total for the Allen collection will soar even higher Thursday morning, when another 95 lots head to auction.

The flurry of eight- and nine-figure sales suggested that the global rich still view masterpiece art as a hedge against inflation and perhaps a safer store of value than increasingly volatile stocks and crypto currencies. The sale came the same day that the Dow fell over 600 points and bitcoin plunged to its lowest levels since November 2020.

The collection of Paul Allen, the late co-founder of Microsoft, was a treasure trove of masterpieces spanning 500 years. All of the proceeds will go to charity, since Allen signed the Giving Pledge promising to leave at least half of his fortune to charity.

Allen’s keen eye for great art also made for great investments. He purchased Gustav Klimt’s “Birch Forest” for $40 million in 2006, and it sold Wednesday for $104 million.

Paul Cezanne’s “La Montagne Sainte-Victoire” is auctioned from Paul Allen’s collection at Christie’s in New York on Nov. 9, 2022.
Robert Frank | CNBC

Paul Cezanne’s “La Montagne Sainte-Victoire” sold for $137.8 million. Vincent van Gogh’s “Verger avec Cypres,” sold for $117 million and set a new record for van Gogh at auction, last set in 1990. Paul Gaugin’s “Maternite II” sold for $105.7 million.

Lucian Freud’s “Large Interior, W11 (after Watteau),” considered one of his largest masterpieces, sold for $86.3 million. One of Claude Monet’s “Waterloo Bridge” paintings went for $64.5 million.

Bidding was strong across the globe, with Christie’s specialists bidding on the phone on behalf of clients in Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the U.S. Several works sold for multiples of their estimates. A famous photo by Edward Steichen of New York’s Flatiron building sold for $11.8 million, making it the second-most expensive photograph ever sold and smashing the $2 million to $3 million estimate.

An Andrew Wyeth painting, called “Day Dream” became the subject of a heated bidding war, selling for $23.3 million, far above its estimate of $2 million to $3 million. Despite the current collector obsession with contemporary art, several of Allen’s Old Masters hit eight figures. A Botticelli work called “Madonna of the Magnificat” went for $48 million.

Visitors look at a painting titled “Madonna of the Magnificat” by Alessandro Filipepi, called Sandro Botticelli (estimate on request: in excess of $40,000,000) during a photo call to present the highlights from the estate of the philanthropist and co-founder of Microsoft, Paul G. Allen in London on Oct. 14, 2022.
Wiktor Szymanowicz | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

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