Late Microsoft founder Paul Allen’s stunning art collection will soon hit the auction block and is expected to fetch over $1 billion — the most expensive art auction in history.
In a statement released late Thursday, Christie’s confirmed that it had won the rights to sell more than 150 “masterpieces” spanning 500 years of art history, including works from Paul Cézanne, Roy Lichtenstein and Georgia O’Keeffe.
Titled “Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection,” the November sale is expected to earn an excess of $1 billion.
Christie’s confirmed that all proceeds will be divided among several charities, “pursuant to Mr. Allen’s wishes.”
Allen, who died in 2018 of complications from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, co-founded Microsoft in 1975 with his childhood friend Bill Gates. After leaving the company in 1983 (he remained on the board until 2000), he built a veritable reputation as a philanthropist and collector.
Valued at $20 billion at the time of his death, Allen’s lifetime charitable contributions totaled $2 billion distributed to medical, cultural, and environmental causes. The founder of both Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture and the Seattle Art Fair, Allen was also a frequent lender to the Seattle Art Museum.
A passionate but discreet collector, Allen was posthumously identified as the anonymous 2016 buyer of Claude Monet’s “Meule,” the first in his haystacks series. The painting was sold at Christie’s for $81.4 million.
Other anticipated highlights at the auction include Jasper Johns’s 1960 “Small False Start,” expected to start bidding at $50 million, and Paul Cézanne’s 1888-90 landscape “La Montagne Sainte-Victoire,” valued at $100 million.
According to his official website, Allen’s passion for art stemmed from his childhood, and was further entrenched after a visit to London’s Tate Gallery left him “profoundly moved.”
“You have to be [collecting art] because you just love the works … and you know that all these works are going to outlast you,” Allen said in 2006.
“You’re only a temporary custodian of them.”
In a 2018 interview after Allen’s death, Ben Heywood, executive director and chief curator of the Bellevue Arts Museum, described the tech wizard as unique from other art buffs.
“What differentiates Paul from other top collectors is that he didn’t have any need to justify his collecting to anybody,” he told ArtNet.
“[Allen] was not collecting as part of a peer activity where the collections were assembled in order to make him look good.”
Allen’s former acquisitions advisor Pablo Schugurensky agreed, saying how “he would ask questions and listen, and would remember everything.
“He was ambitious about collection and he was always extremely curious about learning.”
Allen was also no snob about what he liked, and mingled his loftier purchases with quirkier items like the first chair William Shatner sat in on the first episode of Star Trek and a range of Jimi Hendrix memorabilia.
In 2010, Allen pledged to leave the majority of his fortune to charity. But even before his death, he was dedicated to sharing his art collection with the public.
Speaking to Bloomberg in 2015, he said “To live with these pieces of art is truly amazing. I feel that you should share some of the works to give the public a chance to see them.”
Kimberly Rorschach, director and CEO of the Seattle Museum, described Allen as a generous supporter whose time and energy helped the institution at “a critical time in our history.”
Christie’s CEO Guillaume Cerutti promised in a statement that the sale of Allen’s collection would be “an event of unprecedented magnitude.”
“Paul’s life was guided by his desire to make the world a better place,” Cerutti wrote.
“We believe that presenting his collection at auction and giving the opportunity to wider audiences to discover it will be a fitting tribute to celebrate Paul Allen’s vision and legacy.”
The Christie’s announcement also included a statement from Jody Allen, Allen’s sister and the executor of his estate. In 1986, the siblings co-founded Vulcan, a holding firm for the family’s diverse business interests.
“To Paul, art was both analytical and emotional,” Allen said.
“These works mean so much to so many, and I know that Christie’s will ensure their respectful dispersal to generate tremendous value for philanthropic pursuits in accordance with Paul’s wishes.”
The sale of Allen’s collection comes on the heels of several record-breaking auctions. Earlier this year, Sotheby’s raked in $922 million on the acrimonious dispersal of the collection of real estate developer Harry Macklowe and his ex-wife, Linda. In 2018, Christie’s scored big with the $835 million sale of the Peggy and David Rockefeller Collection.
Christie’s did not immediately return a request for a comment on the auction.
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