Achieving $1.5 billion in a single evening, Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection is the biggest sale in auction history
Fueled by record-breaking masterworks spanning 500 years of artistic innovation, the Paul G. Allen collection becomes the most valuable private collection of all time, totalling $1,622,249,500
On 9 November in New York, Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection kicked off with Part I, which surpassed the $1 billion mark at the 32nd lot and broke records across categories.
The evening saw 60 extraordinary works achieve a total of $1,506,386,000, establishing the Allen collection as the most valuable private collection in history. Five paintings achieved prices above $100 million. The works in the sale sold 100 per cent by lot with 65 per cent of the lots selling above their high estimates.
The sales continued on 10 November with a second auction of 95 works, selling at 100 per cent for a total of $115,863,500. Pursuant to Mr. Allen’s wishes, the estate will dedicate its proceeds from the landmark series of sales, totalling $1,622,249,500, to philanthropy.
The collection of the late philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder features 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 price ever achieved for any Impressionist or Post-Impressionist work of art.
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.’
‘The room tonight was extremely special, and we were joined by colleagues from around the world, demonstrating the global demand of this once-in-a-lifetime collection,’ added Johanna Flaum, Vice Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art.
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. Along with the demand at auction, the preview exhibition saw tremendous interest, drawing over 20,000 visitors globally, with lines forming outside of Rockefeller Center for the ten day preview.
Adding to the historic nature of the sale, 24 works achieved artist records: Thomas Hart Benton, Jan Brueghel the Younger, Paul Cezanne, Henri Edmond Cross, Max Ernst, Sam Francis, Lucian Freud, Paul Gauguin, Barbara Hepworth, Jasper Johns, Gustav Klimt, Guillermo Kuitca, Jacques Lipchitz, Alden Mason, Diego Rivera, Nancy Rubens, Georges Seurat, Henri Le Sidaner, Paul Signac, Edward Steichen, Mildred Thompson, Vincent van Gogh, Andrew Wyeth, and the artist duo Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen.
John Singer Sargent’s The Façade of La Salute and Paul Klee’s Bunte Landschaft each set a record for a work on paper, while Joseph Kosuth saw a record for a photograph by the artist.
Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection Part I
The top price of the evening was $149,240,000 for Georges Seurat’s Les Poseuses, Ensemble (Petite version), tripling the record price for the artist after more than five minutes of intense bidding. The work showcases the full expressive range of Pointillism, the radical painting technique developed by Seurat and Paul Signac using scientific theories. The larger canvas, Les Poseuses (1886-1888), resides in the Barnes Collection in Philadelphia, while the present composition is believed to have
been executed in 1888, after that painting’s completion, representing the most refined version of the scene among the associated works.
Seurat’s Pointillism was of particular interest to Mr. 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.’
Another visionary of painterly innovation, Paul Cezanne, was the artist behind one of the night’s star lots, La Montagne Sainte-Victoire, which fetched $137,790,000 shattering the existing record for the artist. Executed in 1888-1890 as part a series of canvases featuring Aix-en-Provence’s famous mountain, La Montagne Sainte-Victoire finds the painter making a pivotal turn to a more abstracted style, breaking down the scene into geometric components and paving the way for Cubism.
Johns’s Small False Start (1960) realised $55,350,000, setting an artist record. The painting plays with language and colour within a complex, layered surface. In it, the dissonance between text and image evokes the Dadaism of Kurt Schwitters and Jean Arp taken into the realm of the conceptual. Ultimately the painting, like Johns himself, defies categorisation, challenging us to find new ways to interpret abstraction and representation.
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. The 1927 work epitomises her transformation of one of nature’s most delicate objects into a strong artistic statement.
Mr. 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. The painting comes from a group of 14 canvases that showcase different views of an orchard in bloom.
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.
Additional important views by Manet and Monet exceeded $50 million each.
Masters of the Madonna
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. Posed within Edenic surroundings, two women flank a
kneeling mother as she nurses her baby. Through expressive colour and brushwork, Gauguin reimagines one of the most recognisable motifs in art history: the Madonna and child.
The celebrated Madonna of the Magnificat by Sandro Botticelli, who revolutionised depictions of the Madonna during the Florentine Renaissance, sold for $48,480,000. Now a famed devotional work of art, Madonna of the Magnificat was a departure from tradition in many ways. Here, Botticelli bridges the visual realism favoured by his mentor Fra Filippo Lippi with the spiritual beauty of the divine.
Foremost figure painters
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. Spanning almost two metres in both height and width, the painting responds to Jean Antoine Watteau’s Pierrot content from 1712 (today found in the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid). Freud transposed the fête galante, set in an enchanting sylvan glade, to the stark interior of his studio.
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 pallour 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, realised $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 eternalise one of the most fruitful relationships of his career as a lasting image of ethereal beauty.
Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection Part II
The sale continued on 10 November with Part II of the collection, whose 95 lots all found buyers, achieving a total of $115,863,500, with 162 per cent sold against the low estimate.
Part II began with another memorable moment: Alexander Calder’s sculpture Untitled sold for 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, and Disques Verticales — both selling well over their high estimates.
The top lot of the sale was Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s monumental sculpture Typewriter Eraser, Scale X, which sold for $8,405,000 against a low estimate of $5,000,000, setting a record for the artist. The piece, which was displayed outside Rockefeller Center for public viewing in the 10 days leading up to the sale, embodies Oldenburg and van Bruggen's penchant for elevating everyday items through large-scale works.
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 $6,780,000 against a low estimate of $2,500,000.
There was also keen enthusiasm for sculptures by Jacques Lipchitz. Figure set a record for the artist, selling for $4,380,000 against a low estimate of $700,000. Another work, Personnage debout, sold for more than double the low estimate. Other artist records were achieved by Nancy Rubins, Alden Mason, Mildred Thompson and Guillermo Kuitca and Joseph Kosuth set a record for a photograph with Titled (A.A.I.A.I.)’ [text-context].
The sale brought the overall total for Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection to $1,622,249,500. All of the estate's proceeds will be donated to philanthropic causes.