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Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection becomes the most expensive art auction in history
This month, the art market had an exceptional moment as the collection of Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen surpassed the $1 billion mark at Christie’s New York, making it the biggest sale in auction history. Christie’s won the rights to sell Allen’s collected masterpieces, which spanned 500 years of art history. The first part of the collection broke records across categories as it kicked the $1 billion mark at the 32nd lot. An art collection management of this range was definitely one for the books.
The Allen legacy
After leaving Microsoft in 1983, Paul Allen built a strong reputation as a philanthropist and collector. He had a strong presence in the art world as the founder of Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture and the Seattle Art Fair. Allen was also known to be a discreet collector and anonymously bought Claude Monet’s “Meule,” in 2016. The painting was later sold at Christie’s auction for $81.4 million. Other highlights of this amazing art collection management include Paul Cézanne’s 1888-90 landscape “La Montagne Sainte-Victoire,” valued at $100 million, and Jasper Johns’s 1960 “Small False Start,” which started the bid at $50 million. By Mr. Allen’s wishes, the contributions totaled $2 billion were distributed to medical, cultural, and environmental causes.
An unforgettable auction
The auction generated a level of excitement not typically seen in the art world. More than 20,000 people viewed the collection in advance, and the sale was much awaited by dealers and collectors. The collection had 5 lots that exceeded the $100 million mark, which included Vincent van Gogh’s verdant scene of Arles, “Verger Avec cyprès” ($117 million); Gustav Klimt’s 1903 autumnal “Birch Forest” ($105 million), Georges Seurat’s “Les Poseuses, Ensemble (Petite version)” ($149 million, with fees); and Paul Cézanne’s 1888-90 cubism precursor “La Montagne Sainte-Victoire” ($138 million).
This eagerly anticipated auction was in part because of the range of blue-chip works in Allen’s collection, which he started in the 1980s. A sale of this kind reflects the appetite for exceptional rare works. It is important to note that a quarter of the lots by value went to Asian buyers. Which says a lot about art collection management in Asia. After the event, it was announced that the estate would dedicate its proceeds from the landmark series of sales, totaling $1,622,249,500, to philanthropy.