$1.5b Paul G. Allen Auction Sets New Record for Christie’s

Jasper Johns, Small False Start, 1960

Achieving $1.5 billion in a single evening, Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection has become the biggest sale in auction history, setting a record for a single-session, single-owner sale. It trumped, for instance Sotheby’s $676.1m Macklowe collection evening sale in November 2021, and the 9th November sale was only Part 1 of the Visionary event.

Fueled by record-breaking masterworks spanning 500 years of artistic innovation, the Paul G. Allen collection, amassed by the co-founder of Microsoft who died in 2018, surpassed the $1 billion mark by the 32nd lot. It went on to break records in multiple categories, with 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. According to Mr. Allen’s wishes, the estate will dedicate all proceeds from the landmark series of sales 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.

Georges Seurat (1859-1891), Les Poseuses, Ensemble (Petite version), 1888. 15½ x 19¾ in (39.3 x 50 cm). Sold for $149,240,000 in Visionary The Paul G. Allen Collection Part I on 9 November 2022 at Christie’s in New York

Georges Seurat (1859-1891), Les Poseuses, Ensemble (Petite version), 1888. 15½ x 19¾ in (39.3 x 50 cm). Sold for $149,240,000 in Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection Part I on 9 November 2022 at Christie’s in New York

The top lot of the evening was Les Poseuses, Ensemble (Petite version) by Georges Seurat, which sold for $149,240,000. 

‘Never before have more than two paintings exceeded $100 million in a single sale, but tonight, we saw five,’ said Max Carter, Vice Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art. ‘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.

Paul Cezanne (1839-1906), La Montagne Sainte-Victoire, 1888-1890. Oil on canvas. 25⅝ x 31⅞ in (65.2 x 81.2 cm). Sold for $137,790,000 in Visionary The Paul G. Allen Collection Part I on 9 November 2022 at Christie’s in New York

Paul Cezanne (1839-1906), La Montagne Sainte-Victoire, 1888-1890. Oil on canvas. 25⅝ x 31⅞ in (65.2 x 81.2 cm). Sold for $137,790,000 in Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection Part I on 9 November 2022 at Christie’s in New York

In New York, auctioneers Adrien Meyer and Jussi Pylkkänen took bids from clients in 19 countries. The sale attracted 2.2 million viewers across Christie’s global platforms. Along with the demand at auction, the preview exhibition saw tremendous interest, drawing 20,000 visitors across ten days in New York. 

Adding to the historic nature of the sale, 18 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, Diego Rivera, Georges Seurat, Henri Le Sidaner, Paul Signac, Edward Steichen, Vincent van Gogh, and Andrew Wyeth. 

John Singer Sargent’s The Façade of La Salute and Paul Klee’s Bunte Landschaft each set a record for a work on paper.

Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009), Day Dream, 1980. Tempera on panel. 19 x 27¼ in (48.3 x 69.2 cm). Sold for $23,290,000 in Visionary The Paul G. Allen Collection Part I on 9 November 2022 at Christie’s in New York

Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009), Day Dream, 1980. Tempera on panel. 19 x 27¼ in (48.3 x 69.2 cm). Sold for $23,290,000 in Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection Part I on 9 November 2022 at Christie’s in New York

Top Prices 

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.’ 

Innovators 

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, Encaustic, acrylic and paper collage on fiberboard. 21 ⅞ x 18 ¼ in/55.6 x 46.4 cm), seen top of page, 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. 

Views 

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.

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), Verger avec cyprès, 1888. Oil on canvas. 25¾ x 31⅞ in (65.2 x 80.2 cm). Sold for $117,180,000 in Visionary The Paul G. Allen Collection Part I on 9 November 2022 at Christie’s in New York

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), Verger avec cyprès, 1888. Oil on canvas. 25¾ x 31⅞ in (65.2 x 80.2 cm). Sold for $117,180,000 in Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection Part I on 9 November 2022 at Christie’s in New York

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

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.

Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), Maternité II, 1899. Oil on burlap. 37¼ x 24 in (94.7 x 61 cm). Sold for $105,730,000 in Visionary The Paul G. Allen Collection Part I on 9 November 2022 at Christie’s in New York

Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), Maternité II, 1899. Oil on burlap. 37¼ x 24 in (94.7 x 61 cm). Sold for $105,730,000 in Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection Part I on 9 November 2022 at Christie’s in New York

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

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.

Lucian Freud (1922-2011), Large Interior, W11 (after Watteau), 1981-83. Oil on canvas. 72¼ x 78 in (185.4 x 198.1 cm). Sold for $86,265,000 in Visionary The Paul G. Allen Collection Part I on 9 November 2022 at Christie’s in New York

Lucian Freud (1922-2011), Large Interior, W11 (after Watteau), 1981-83. Oil on canvas. 72¼ x 78 in (185.4 x 198.1 cm). Sold for $86,265,000 iVisionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection Part I on 9 November 2022 at Christie’s in New York

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. 

The excitement continues on 10th November, at 10:00 AM EST with Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection Part II.

See also: Christie’s Sells ‘Fortune Pink’ Diamond for CHF 28.4m

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