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Allen's Estate Art Collection Breaks Art Auction Record

Two-day total nets record $1.6 billion

The art collection of former Mercer Island resident and Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen became the most expensive collection ever sold, with 155 works netting over $1.6 billion during the auction at Christie’s New York on November 9-10. Proceeds will be given to charity, including the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.  

Dubbed “Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection,” the auction drew collectors from all over the world. The first day, 60 works of art hammered for a total of over $1.5 billion, including five pieces that sold for over $100 million. The next day, 95 works sold for a combined nearly $116 million.  

The collection of the late philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder featured a diverse trove of masterpieces from the Renaissance to the cutting edge of contemporary art. 

The top lot of the collection was Les Poseuses, Ensemble (Petite version) by Georges Seurat, which sold for $149,240,000. The sale of the painting marks the highest sale for any Impressionist or Post-Impressionist work of art, tripling the record price for the artist after more than five minutes.  

Seurat’s Pointillism was of particular interest to Allen, who once said, “Because of my computer background, I’m attracted to things like Pointillism or a Jasper Johns ‘numbers’ work because they come from breaking something down into its components, like bytes or numbers, but in a different kind of language.” 

Of the evening sale, Max Carter, Vice Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art, said, “Never before have more than two paintings exceeded $100 million in a single sale, but tonight we saw five. Four were masterpieces from the fathers of modernism — Cezanne, Seurat, Van Gogh and Gauguin.”  

In New York, auctioneers Adrien Meyer and Jussi Pylkkänen took bids from clients in 19 countries for the historic Part I, while 31 countries participated in the bidding the following day. The sales attracted over 4 million viewers across Christie’s global platforms.    

John Singer Sargent’s The Façade of La Salute ($3.66 million) and Paul Klee’s Bunte Landschaft ($4.86 million) each set a record for a work on paper, while Joseph Kosuth ($289,800) saw a record for a photograph by the artist.  

Paul Cezanne’s La Montagne Sainte-Victoire fetched $137,790,000 shattering the existing record for the artist. Jasper Johns’s Small False Start (1960) sold for $55,350,000, setting an artist record.  One of Georgia O’Keeffe’s iconic flower paintings, White Rose with Larkspur No. I, attracted a frenzy of bidding before selling in the room for $26,725,000.  

Allen’s collection highlights landmark moments in the development of landscape painting across centuries. In addition to Cezanne’s magisterial vision of the Mont Sainte-Victoire, Vincent van Gogh’s luminous Provençal landscape Verger avec cyprês (1888) sold for $117,180,000, smashing the current record for the artist at auction.  

Gustav Klimt’s Birch Forest (1903) was another remarkable performer, garnering $104,585,000 and setting a record for the artist. In the painting, the painter uses his distinctive style to draw us into the calm tranquility of the natural landscape. He eschews traditional markers of perspective, fully immersing the viewer in his world. 

Works by Manet and Monet exceeded $50 million each. Paul Gauguin’s monumental Maternité II, painted in Tahiti in 1899, more than doubled the previous record for the artist, selling for $105,730,000.   

The celebrated Madonna of the Magnificat by Sandro Botticelli, who revolutionized depictions of the Madonna during the Florentine Renaissance, sold for $48,480,000.  

Modern masterworks of portraiture made a strong showing in the auction. Lucian Freud’s Large Interior, W11 (after Watteau) (1981-1983) realised $86,265,000, smashing the artist record.  

Francis Bacon’s triptych Three Studies for Self-Portrait (1979) sold for $29,015,000. The work consists of three close-up views of the artist’s head, captured at different angles. The spectral pallor of his flesh is offset by disquieting patches of pink and blue and set against a backdrop of blazing orange. 

Day Dream, a luminous 1980 portrait by Andrew Wyeth, realized $23,290,000 after a fierce bidding war, more than doubling the artist record. Depicting the artist’s most well-known model, Helga Testorf, Day Dream balances a crisp, monochromatic palette with detailed tempera brushwork to eternalize one of the most fruitful relationships of his career as a lasting image of ethereal beauty.   

Day 2 began with another memorable auction lot: Alexander Calder’s sculpture Untitled sold for $1.86 million more than four times its high estimate. It would set the precedent for the artist’s two other pieces in the Day Sale — Two-Toned Moon ($2.7 million), and Disques Verticales ($4.5 million), both selling well over their high estimates. 

The top lot of during the second day was Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s monumental sculpture Typewriter Eraser, Scale X, which sold for over $8.4 million against a low estimate of $5 million setting a record for the artist. The piece was displayed outside Rockefeller Center for public viewing in the 10 days leading up to the sale.   

Paintings by Sam Francis continued to attract interest from buyers, and both lots in the day sale commanded prices well above their high estimates. Red No. 1 was a particular standout, fetching nearly $6.8 million against a low estimate of $2.5 million 

There was also keen enthusiasm for sculptures by Jacques Lipchitz. Figure set a record for the artist, selling for $4.38 million against a low estimate of $700,000. *Information from Christie’s was included in this report.  

  • "Les Poseuses, Ensemble (Petite version)" by Georges Seurat was the most expensive artwork selling for $149,240,000
  • Jasper Johns (b. 1930), Small False Start, 1960. Encaustic, acrylic and paper collage on fiberboard sold for $55,350,000
  • Paul Cezanne (1839-1906), "La Montagne Sainte-Victoire," 1888-1890, oil on canvas
  • Paul Allen estate art auction
  • Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), Verger avec cypres, 1888. Oil