Art collection owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen fetches US$1.6 billion

Paul Cezanne's "La Montagne Sainte-Victoire," the second-most valuable piece to sell as part of the late Paul Allen's art collection. Christie's

The sale of a hugely valuable collection of art amassed by the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has set records for some of the highest art prices the world has seen. In just one auction on Wednesday, 60 works of art changed hands for US$1.506 billion — making it the biggest sale in auction history.

The collection spanned 500 years of history in 155 works of art. Five pieces — paintings done by modernist masters Vincent van Gogh, Georges Seurat, Paul Gauguin and Paul Cezanne, and the art nouveau visionary, Gustav Klimt — sold for over $100 million each, setting new records for those artists.

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“Never before have more than two paintings exceeded $100 million in a single sale, but tonight, we saw five,” said Max Carter, vice chairman of 20th and 21st century art at Christie’s.

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Christie’s says it’s the most valuable private art collection in the world, having sold an additional $116.6 million in art in the second day of the auction, which concluded Thursday. In total, Allen’s art collection brought in $1,622,987,500 and 100 per cent of the pieces sold.

In accordance with the Giving Pledge, a campaign that urges billionaires to donate the vast majority of their wealth, the proceeds of Allen’s art collection will go to charity.

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The previous record holder of most valuable collection was held by the Macklowes, a wealthy New York couple who sold their art collection for $922 million earlier this year.

One reason why the super-rich may be spending millions at the auction recently is because they are viewing art as a safe investment amid an unstable global economy and the Ukraine war, the BBC reported.

Allen passed away in 2018 from non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He co-founded Microsoft in 1975 with his childhood friend Bill Gates. At the time of his death he was the 37th richest man in the world with an estimated worth of $13.5 billion, according to Forbes.

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Allen’s sister, Jody Allen, said that, to her brother, art was “both analytical and emotional,” CNN reported.

We’ve compiled some notable works from the collection, including the five most valuable pieces and two Canadian paintings.

Les Poseuses, Ensemble by George Seurat. Christie's

The most expensive piece from the auction was Seurat’s 1888 painting Les Poseuses, Ensemble (translates to The Posers, Together), which sold for $149.2 million. The massive price tag is almost five times more expensive than the previous record for the French artist’s work.

In the background of the painting you can see a portion of one of Seurat’s most famous pieces, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.

Paul Cezanne’s “La Montagne Sainte-Victoire.” Christie's

The second most-valuable piece was Cézanne’s La Montagne Sainte-Victoire, an oil painting of the French mountain range that picked up $137.8 million. Allen acquired the piece for $35 million in 2001, at the time it was the second-highest price ever paid for a Cézanne work.

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Vincent Van Gogh’s “Verger avec Cyprès.” Christie's

Van Gogh’s Verger avec Cyprès, or Orchard with Cypresses, fetched $117.2 million at auction and is also the most expensive Van Gogh work to ever be sold. This modernist landscape of the Provencal countryside is one of 14 canvases that depict this orchard in bloom.

Paul Gauguin's Maternity II
Paul Gauguin’s “Maternity II.” Christie's

Gauguin’s Maternity II sold for $105.7 million, the fourth most-valuable piece of the night. It’s the most expensive Gaugin to ever sell at auction, though CNN reports that a private sale of a Gaugin may have fetched over $300 million in 2015.

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Allen bought the painting in 2004 for $39 million. The work was painted during Gaugin’s controversial stay in French Polynesia, where he fathered a child with a teenager. Paintings from this period of his life are highly sought.

Gustav Klimt's "Birch Forest."
Gustav Klimt’s “Birch Forest.” Christie's

The fifth most expensive piece was Klimt’s Birch Forest, which sold for $104.6 million. The painting resurfaced a decade and a half ago after having been looted by Nazis in the 1940s.

Lawren Harris’ “Mountain Sketch LXIII.” Christie's

Two paintings by famed Canadian artist and Group of Seven member Lawren Harris were also included in Allen’s collection. Each sold for $882,000.

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The painting above is Harris’ Mountain Sketch LXIII, which depicts Jasper National Park.

Lawren Harris’ “From Berg Lake, Morning.” Christie's

The second Harris to go up for auction is called From Berg Lake, Morning and is a landscape view from Mount Robson Provincial Park. Allen acquired the two Harris’ during an auction in 2016.

Other notable artists whose works were auctioned as part of Allen’s collection include Georgia O’Keefe, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Andrew Wyeth, Jackson Pollock, and David Hockney, as well as contemporary artists such as Jasper Johns and Lucian Freud.


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