Will an art collection cross the symbolic bar of one billion dollars? By auctioning in New York the works that belonged to the late co-founder of Microsoft, Paul Allen, the Christie’s auction house is aiming for a historic record, symbol of a market that is panicking the counters despite a world shaken 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.
Owner of several sports franchises, such as the Seattle Seahawks, he had also amassed a considerable art collection, which he used to loan to museums before his death in 2018.
Some of the works from Paul Allen’s collection
500 years of art history
In 150 works, put on sale this Wednesday and Thursday at the headquarters of Christie’s, at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan, the set retraces 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 assemblage is also unique for its value: several masterpieces are estimated at at least 100 million dollars, such as “Les Poseuses, Ensemble (small version)” (1888) by Georges Seurat, a pinnacle of the 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 Tahitian period of Gauguin, one of the most sought after, has also become controversial because of the painter’s relationships with teenage girls when he was staying on the island.
Towards a new record?
Even if he had fallen out 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 give details of the works that will benefit.
Christie’s, controlled by the Artémis holding company of François Pinault, hopes in any case to mark the history of the art market by totaling 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 reached $922 million at competitor Sotheby’s in the spring.
Art, a safe investment…
With these sales, and that of the portrait of Marilyn Monroe “Shot Sage Blue Marilyn” by Andy Warhol, which left in May for 195 million dollars, a record for a work of the 20th century, the current year could remain as the one of the most expensive in history.
Another iconic Warhol, “White Disaster [White Car Crash 19 Times] (1963), representing 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.
The company, which belongs to the Franco-Israeli billionaire Patrick Drahi, will chain 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, weighed down by the war in Ukraine and the risk of recession.
… for billionaires
“Clients want to diversify their assets, to profit from the art and because they know that most works continue to increase in value over time,” says Adrien Meyer, co-president of the Impressionists and Modern Art department at Christie’s.
“There are more billionaires than masterpieces” available on the market, he summarizes, and “demand is very diverse”.
“We don’t see any signs of slowing down,” confirms the vice-president of the Phillips auction house, Jeremiah Evarts, who nevertheless notes that “a large number of collectors are looking towards the 20th century and perhaps feel be more confident by buying a Picasso, a Chagall or a Magritte”, safe bets.
Phillips will notably put on sale on November 15 a painting by Marc Chagall from 1911, “The Father”, a work stolen by the Nazis and recently returned by France to the legitimate heirs, who have decided to part with it.