Biggest art sale in history as Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s collection fetches $1.5bn

Works by Georges Seurat, Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh and Gustav Klimt each sell for more than $100m, with more set for auction on Thursday

Dozens of works by artists including Paul Cézanne and Vincent van Gogh fetched a total of $1.5bn at an auction of the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s vast collection of paintings and sculpture.

The total represented the highest amount ever collected at a single art auction, according to the auction house, Christie’s in New York. Proceeds will be donated to philanthropic causes in accordance with the wishes of Allen, who died in 2018.

Allen personally selected all the works, which span more than 500 years, rather than relying on an art buyers 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 when some of his collection went on show in 2016.

Several of the winning bids smashed previous records for individual artists and many exceeded the expected sales prices estimated by Christie’s.

Before Wednesday’s sale, Christie’s said it 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.

Among the priciest works sold was Pointillist pioneer Georges Seurat’s Les Poseuses, Ensemble (Petite version), an 1888 oil on canvas depicting three nude women. It fetched $149.2m including fees, a record for a Seurat piece.

Cézanne’s La Montagne Sainte-Victoire, a colourful landscape painted from 1888-1890, sold for $137.8m, another record. And a Gustav Klimt 1903 painting, Birch Forest, set the high mark for a Klimt work, selling for $104.6m.

Paul Cézanne’s La Montagne Sainte-Victoire, painted in 1888-1890.
Paul Cézanne’s La Montagne Sainte-Victoire, painted in 1888-1890. Photograph: © Christie’s Images Limited 2022

Other notable sales included the highest price ever for a van Gogh painting. The artist’s Verger avec cyprès sold for $117.2m. Paul Gauguin’s 1899 oil on burlap Maternite II fetched $105.7m.

Vincent van Gogh’s Verger avec cyprès.
Vincent van Gogh’s Verger avec cyprès. Photograph: © Christie’s Images Limited 2022

Paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe, Claude Monet, David Hockney, Andrew Wyeth and Pablo Picasso also sold, along with sculptures by Alexander Calder and Max Ernst.

A 1905 print of a photograph by Edward Steichen, The Flatiron, sold for $11.8m, a record for a Steichen work and nearly four times Christie’s highest estimate.

Additional pieces from Allen’s collection will be offered at auction on Thursday.

With Reuters

Staff and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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