Christie’s hopes for ‘biggest season ever’ with sale of Microsoft co-founder’s collection

Less famous than Bill Gates, Paul Allen was a billionaire with a passion for art and pop culture. This auction could generate more than a billion dollars, a record. All funds will be donated to charity.

Will an art collection cross the symbolic $1 billion bar? By auctioning works belonging to the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen in New York, Christie’s auction house is aiming for an all-time high, symbolic of a market in panic despite a world shaken by crises.

Less known by the general public than Bill Gates, with whom he created Microsoft in 1975, Paul Allen was a multi-faceted billionaire passionate about pop culture, from Jimi Hendrix to Nirvana or Star Trek, whose objects he exhibited in his museum in Seattle (northwest), your natal city.

Owner of several sports franchises, such as the Seattle Seahawks, he had also amassed a sizable art collection, which he used to lend to museums before his death in 2018.

500 years of art history

In 150 works, put on sale Wednesday and Thursday at Christie’s headquarters in Manhattan’s Rockefeller Center, the collection traces more than 500 years of art history, from Botticelli and Canaletto to Georgia O’Keeffe and Louise Bourgeois, going through Claude Monet, Francis Bacon and Edward Hopper.

Unique, the set is also unique for its value: several masterpieces are estimated at at least 100 million dollars, such as The Poseuses, together (small version) (1888) by Georges Seurat, a pinnacle of pointillism, or a Mount Sainte-Victoire (1888-1890) by Paul Cézanne, herald of Cubism.

A woman in front of one of the “False Starts” by the painter Jasper Johns, at Christie’s (New York), October 12, 2022. FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP

It also includes the “Orchard with cypresses” by Vincent Van Gogh or a painting from the Tahitian era by Paul Gauguin, Maternity II (1899), depicting her 17-year-old lover, Pahura. This Tahitian period of Gauguin, one of the most sought after, has also become controversial due to the painter’s relationships with teenage girls during his stay on the island.

Expected sales record

Although he had fallen out with Bill Gates, Paul Allen had signed his give promise in 2009 and all sales will be donated to charity. Her sister Jody Allen, who heads the Paul Allen Foundation, did not give details of the works she will benefit.

Christie’s, controlled by François Pinault’s holding company Artémis, expects in any case to mark the history of the art market by adding more than a billion dollars. It would be a new record, in the wake of the Macklowe collection, named after a wealthy New York couple, which fetched $922 million at Sotheby’s competition in the spring.

With these sales and the Marilyn Monroe portrait Marilyn Blue Sage Shot By Andy Warhol, which came out in May for $195 million, a record for a 20th-century work, this year could remain one of the most expensive in history.

On the left, “The Assisted” by the painter Brice Marden, exhibited at Christie’s (New York), on October 12, 2022. FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP

Another iconic Warhol, white disaster [White Car Crash 19 Times] (1963), which represents a car accident and of which only three exist in this monumental format, will be sold on November 16 by Sotheby’s, with an estimate of more than 80 million dollars.

Art, a new safe haven

The company, owned by French-Israeli billionaire Patrick Drahi, will auction for four days and says it hopes the “greatest season in history”.

According to the experts of the auction houses, art is more than ever a safe investment in the eyes of the very rich, in a difficult economic context, weighed down by the war in Ukraine and the risks of recession. “Clients want to diversify their assets, to take advantage of art and because they know that most works continue to increase in value over time”explains to AFP Adrien Meyer, co-chairman of Christie’s Impressionists and Modern Art department.

‘No signs of slowing down’

“There are more billionaires than masterpieces” available on the market, sums up Adrien Meyer, and “the demand is very diverse”.

Phillips Auction House Vice President Jeremiah Evarts confirms this trend: “We don’t see any signs of slowing down.” However, it specifies that“A large number of collectors look to the 20th century and perhaps feel safer buying a Picasso, a Chagall or a Magritte,safe bets.”

Phillips will notably put up for sale on November 15 a painting by Marc Chagall from 1911, The fatherwork stolen by the Nazis and recently returned by France to its legitimate heirs, who have decided to get rid of it.


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