Will an art collection cross the symbolic threshold of a billion dollars? By auctioning the works that belonged to late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen in New York, auction house Christie’s is aiming for a historic record, a symbol of a market panicking despite a world rocked by crises .
A pop culture billionaire
Less known to the general public than Bill Gates, with whom he gave birth to Microsoft in 1975, Paul Allen was a jack-of-all-trades billionaire with a passion for pop culture, from Jimi Hendrix to Nirvana or Star Trek, whose objects he exhibited in his museum in Seattle, his hometown.
The owner of several sports franchises, such as the Seattle Seahawks, he had also amassed a significant art collection, which he used to lend to museums before his death in 2018.
Some of the works from Paul Allen’s collection
500 years of art history
In 150 works, on sale this Wednesday and Thursday at Christie’s headquarters in Rockefeller Center in Manhattan, the set reflects more than 500 years of art history, from Botticelli and Canaletto to Georgia O’Keeffe and Louise Bourgeois, via Claude Monet, Francis Bacon and Edward Hopper .
Unique, the collection is also unique for its value: several masterpieces are estimated at least 100 million dollars, such as “Les Poseuses, Ensemble (small version)” (1888) by Georges Seurat, a pinnacle of pointillism, or a ” Sainte-Victoire Mountain” (1888-1890) by Paul Cézanne, heralding Cubism.
There is also Vincent Van Gogh’s “Orchard with Cypresses” or a painting from the Tahitian period by Paul Gauguin, “Maternity II” (1899), which depicts his 17-year-old mistress, Pahura. This Tahiti period of Gauguin, one of the most sought after, has also become controversial due to the painter’s relationship with teenage girls when he stayed on the island.
On the way to a new record?
Although he had clashed with Bill Gates, Paul Allen had signed his “Giving Pledge” in 2009 and all sales will be donated to charities. His sister Jody Allen, who heads the Paul Allen Foundation, did not provide details about the works that will benefit.
Christie’s, controlled by François Pinault’s holding company Artémis, hopes in any case to mark the history of the art market with a total of more than a billion dollars. That would be a new record, following the Macklowe collection, named after a wealthy New York couple, which fetched $922 million at rival Sotheby’s this spring.
Art, a safe investment…
With these sales, and the portrait of Marilyn Monroe “Shot Sage Blue Marilyn” by Andy Warhol, which left in May for $195 million, a record for a 20th-century work, this year could remain the most expensive in history .
Another iconic Warhol, “White Disaster [White Car Crash 19 Times] (1963), representing a car accident, 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.
The company, owned by French-Israeli billionaire Patrick Drahi, will run the auction for four days and says it expects the “biggest season ever”.
According to auction house experts, art is more than ever a safe investment in the eyes of the very wealthy, in a difficult economic context, burdened by the war in Ukraine and the risk of recession.
… for billionaires
“Clients want to diversify their assets, to capitalize on the art and because they know that most works continue to increase in value over time,” said Adrien Meyer, co-president of the Impressionist and Modern Art department at Christie’s.
“There are more billionaires than masterpieces” on the market, he sums up, and “the demand is very diverse”.
“We don’t see any signs of slowing down,” affirms Phillips auction house vice president Jeremiah Evarts, who nevertheless notes that “a large number of collectors are looking toward the 20th century and may feel more confident in buying a Picasso, a Chagall or a Magritte”, safe bets.
In particular, Phillips will put up for sale on Nov. 15 a 1911 Marc Chagall painting, “The Father,” a work stolen by the Nazis and recently returned by France to the legitimate heirs who have decided to dispose of it.