Microsoft co-founder’s collection poised to raise $1bn in ‘largest art auction in history’

Proceeds from sale of 150 works owned by the late billionaire Paul Allen will go to charity

The vast private art collection of the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen is expected to fetch a record-breaking $1bn (£890m) when it is auctioned next week.

The collection of more than 150 masterpieces includes Georges Seurat’s Les Poseuses, Ensemble (petite version) and Paul Cézanne’s landscape La Montagne Sainte-Victoire, which are both expected to sell for more than $100m, and Gustav Klimt’s 1903 work Birch Forest, which has an auctioneer’s estimate of $90m.

The collection, which is being sold by Christie’s over two nights next week, also includes works by Botticelli, Renoir, David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, and JMW Turner. Allen personally selected all the works, which span more than 500 years, rather than relying on an art buyer to pick them out as some billionaires do.

“When you look at a painting you’re looking into a different country, into someone else’s imagination, how they saw it,” Allen said of his collection when some of his works went on show in 2016.

Christie’s said the sale was “poised to be the largest and most exceptional art auction in history”, eclipsing the $922m achieved by the sale of the Macklowe collection in May, after the divorce of the property tycoon Harry Macklowe from his wife, Linda.

All the proceeds will be donated to charity, as was stipulated by Allen, who died in 2018 aged 65 from complications of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Marc Porter, the chair of Christie’s Americas, said Allen’s collection “brings together masterpieces in support of philanthropy on an epic scale”.

“It’s hard to imagine that this is the result of one man’s passionate pursuit of excellence, but Paul G Allen was indeed a visionary, and he was drawn to artists who shared his genius for seeing our world in new ways and explaining it to us by new means.”

Paul Allen
Paul Allen, who co-founded Microsoft with Bill Gates, died in 2018, aged 65. Photograph: Tim Knox/The Guardian

In 2010, when he was the 37th richest person in the world, with an estimated worth of $13.5bn, Allen pledged to leave the majority of this fortune to charity. The Paul G Allen Family Foundation invests mostly in communities across the Pacific north-west – Allen was from Seattle – with a focus on regional arts, underserved populations and the environment.

Allen, who co-founded Microsoft in 1975 with his childhood friend Bill Gates, donated more than $2.5bn during his lifetime towards helping to save endangered species, funding bioscience and new technology research and funding projects to explore the ocean floor.

He was obsessed with the world’s oceans and owned Octopus, a vast explorer class vessel that was the world’s largest yacht when it was built in 2003 and had capability for deep sea exploration as well as living a life of luxury on the high seas. Octopus was sold for just under €230m (£202m) last year.

A second superyacht Allen owned was sold on Friday. The 92-metre Tatoosh, which was marketed heavily at the recent Monaco yacht show, was sold by the superyacht broker Fraser to an undisclosed buyer for an undisclosed price. It had been listed at $90m.

Max Carter, the Christie’s vice-chair of 20th and 21st century art, said Allen’s art collection was “like Cézanne’s breathtaking view of Mont Sainte-Victoire … the summit of the mountain”.

“From Brueghel’s The Five Senses and the Venetian imaginings of Turner and Manet, to late 19th-century masterpieces by Van Gogh, Gauguin and Monet, Klimt’s Birch Forest and Freud’s Large Interior W11 (after Watteau), arguably the greatest set piece of the last 50 years, the collection is bounded only by vision and quality,” he said.


Rupert Neate Wealth correspondent

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