The sale of the private art collection of the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen shattered auction records on Wednesday night, as Christie’s New York reeled in more than $1.5 billion for a variety of iconic works.
The New York Times called day one of the sale the biggest in auction history as numerous individual pieces sold for more than $100 million each. Christie’s — which tweeted an ongoing stream of sale images tagged #AuctionRecord — said the collection includes more than 150 masterpieces spanning 500 years of art history. The sale continues on Thursday with more paintings and sculptures.
Update: Day two of the sale brought in $115.9 million, with the sculpture “Typewriter Eraser” by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen selling for $8.4 million. Christie’s said 18 works achieved artist records during the two-day sale and 65% of the items sold above their high estimate.
The highest-priced item from the sale was Georges Seurat’s “Les Poseuses, Ensemble (Petite version),” which went for $149 million. Paintings by Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Cezanne, Jasper Johns, Andrew Wyeth, Georgia O’Keeffee, David Hockney and others were included.
Another noteworthy sale, as pointed out by The Times, was Edward Steichen’s 1904 photograph “The Flatiron,” of the famed New York City building. It went for four times the high estimate at $12 million to set an auction high for the artist. The Times reported that it was the second highest price ever paid for a photograph, after Man Ray’s 1924 “Le Violon d’Ingres.”
“Harnessing his visionary perspective, Mr. Allen built an art collection of incomparable quality,” Christie’s said in a story summing up the collection. “From celebrated Old Masters and ground-breaking Impressionists to leaders of post-war abstraction and trailblazers at work today, the collection charts the revolutionary spirit of exceptional artists across 500 years of history.”
Plans for the auction were first announced in August as part of efforts by the Paul G. Allen Estate, and his sister Jody Allen as executor, to wind down the billionaire philanthropist’s vast holdings across a wide variety of interests.
Proceeds from the sale will go to philanthropy, pursuant to the wishes of Allen, who died from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of 65 in 2018.
“Paul truly understood the power and significance of art and was always happy to share that experience with others,” Jody Allen said in August. “I am very pleased to have this unparalleled collection in the hands of Christie’s world class operation to lead its safe passage to new collectors around the world, and in doing so, to maximize resources for the future philanthropic vision my brother planned for.”
Jody Allen told Christie’s that her brother “believed that art expressed a unique view of reality — combining the artist’s inner state and inner eye — in a way that can inspire us all. His collection reflects the diversity of his interests, with their own mystique and beauty.”
But one art expert told The Times that the collection reflected Paul Allen’s buying prowess more than his aesthetic passion.
“It’s like the tech mind — everything is in amazing condition, vivid colors, not too disturbing, not too sexual — like a numbers or computer guy would think it through; every one of them is a near perfect example,” dealer and collector Adam Lindemann told the newspaper. “I don’t think the collection says much about him. You can walk through the whole thing and not come away with a feeling about Paul Allen. It’s very analytical and very precise.”
Since Allen’s death, his sister has made significant progress on selling off his holdings.
The Flying Heritage Combat and Armor Museum, an large collection of aviation and military artifacts started by Allen in 2004 in Everett, Wash., was sold on Aug. 4. Stratolaunch, the company Allen founded to build a flying launch pad for rockets, was transferred to new owners in 2019. And Allen’s 414-foot superyacht Octopus — part party boat and part research vessel — was sold in 2021, and Tatoosh, at 303 feet in length, recently sold after being listed for $90 million.
The Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trail Blazers, NFL and NBA franchises owned by the Allen estate, are not yet for sale but will be sold eventually.
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