The Paul G Allen Collection: The Most Valuable Art Collection in History

November 11, 2022

On November 9th, Christie’s New York hosted the first leg of Visionary: The Paul G Allen Collection, which will go down in history as the most expensive collection to date. The following day, November 10th, the second leg of the sale continued to push the margin even further, with the collection’s valuation totaling $1,622,249,500. 

The Paul Allen estate sale was announced earlier this year and was projected to break records. It was anticipated to trump the recent headline-making Macklowe sale, which surpassed $850 million last year at Sotheby’s.

The split-day sale successfully did so in just the first leg of the collection, with some hammer prices reaching far above the back estimates. 

Described by Christie’s as “Visionary,” the collection lived up to its name, harboring some of the highest sale prices recorded and holding some of the best examples of the greatest artists in art history. The historical collection was not short of a vision and will likely be the talk of the art world for years to come.

Visitors viewing artwork from the Paul Allen Collection preview. Photo by Micaela Preble
Visitors viewing artwork from the Paul Allen Collection preview. Photo by Micaela Preble

The First Leg of the Paul Allen Sale

The first evening sale saw 60 extraordinary works achieve $1.5 billion, establishing the Paul Allen Collection as the most valuable private collection in history. 

Of the 60 works, five paintings saw prices above $100 million. The sale itself had a 100% sell-through rate, with 65% of the lots selling for above the high estimate. 

The top lot of the evening was George Seurat’s Les Poseuses, Ensemble (Petite Version), which sold for $149,240,000. The sale of the painting marks the highest price ever for any Impressionist or Post-Impressionist work of art. 

The work showcases Seurat’s full expressive range of pointillism, the modern painting technique the artist and Paul Signac developed using scientific theories. The larger version of the painting, from 1886, resides in the Barnes Collection in Philadelphia. At the same time, the smaller composition is believed to have been executed in 1888, representing the most refined version of the scene among the works.

Other Impressive Works that Sold

Paul Cézanne's La Montagne Sainte-Victoire. Photo by Simon Ross
Paul Cézanne’s La Montagne Sainte-Victoire. Photo by Simon Ross

Another visionary of painterly innovation, Paul Cézanne, was the artist behind one of the star lots, La Montagne Sainte-Victoire. His piece fetched $137,790,000, exceeding the artist’s previous record.

The work was executed between 1888 and 1890 as part of a series of canvases featuring Aix-en-Provence’s famous mountain range. It finds the painter turning to a more abstract style, where we can see some of the earliest components of cubism years before Pablo Picasso and Braque’s first canvases. 

Jasper Johns‘ Small False Start (1960) sold for a realized price of $55,350,000, setting an artist record. The painting plays with language and color within a complex, layered surface. Ultimately the painting, much like Johns himself, defies categorization, challenging viewers to find new ways to interpret abstraction and representation. 

One of Georgia O’Keeffe’s iconic flower paintings, White Rose with Larkspur No.1 attracted a frenzy of bidders before selling in the room for $26,725,000. The 1927 work epitomizes her transformation of one of nature’s most delicate objects into a strong artistic statement and motif. 

Luminous Landscapes 

The collection also highlights various pristine examples of landscape paintings spanning centuries.

In addition to Cézanne’s vision of the french mountains, Vincent van Gogh’s luminous Provençal landscape Verger Avec Cyprês (1888) sold for $117,180,00, smashing the current record for the artist at auction. The painting comes from a group of 14 canvases that showcase different views of an orchard in bloom.

Gustav Klimt’s Birch Forest (1903) was another remarkable performer garnering $104,585,000 and setting a record for the artist. In the painting, the painter uses his distinctive style to draw us to the calm tranquility of the natural landscape. 

Additional important landscapes by Manet and Monet exceeded $50 million each.

Perfect Portraiture 

Modern masterworks of portraiture were a strong showing at auction.

Women in front of Freud's Large Interior, W11. Photo by Micaela Preble
Women in front of Freud’s Large Interior, W11. Photo by Micaela Preble

Lucian Freud’s Large Interior, W11(After Watteau) (1981-1983) realized $86,265,000, well above the previous auction record for Freud. The massive work was conducted in response to Jean-Antoine Watteau’s Pierrot from 1718-9.

Another example is Andrew Wyeth’s radiant 1980 portrait titled Day Dream. After a fierce bidding war, the painting fetched $23,290,000, doubling Wyeth’s previous auction record. Depicting the artist’s most well-known model, Day Dream balances a crisp, monochromatic palette with detailed tempera brushstrokes to eternalize one of the most fruitful relationships of his career as a lasting ethereal image.

The Second Leg of the Paul Allen Sale

Frank Stella's Cinema de Pepsi III with Calder's Disques Verticales. Photo by Micaela Preble
Frank Stella’s Cinema de Pepsi III with Calder’s Disques Verticales. Photo by Micaela Preble

The sale continued on November 10th with Part II of the collection, whose 95 lots all found buyers, achieving a total of $115,863,500, with 162 percent sold against the low estimate. 

Part II began with another memorable moment: Alexander Calder’s sculpture Untitled sold for more than four times its high estimate. It would set a precedent for the artist’s two other pieces in the Day Sale — Two-Toned Moon and Disques Verticales — selling well over their high estimates.

The sale’s top lot was Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s monumental sculpture Typewriter Eraser, Scale X, which sold for $8,405,000 against a low estimate of $5,000,000, setting a record for the artist.

The piece, displayed outside Rockefeller Center for public viewing in the ten days leading up to the sale, embodies Oldenburg and van Bruggen’s penchant for elevating everyday items through large-scale works. 

Interior view of Christie's gallery space during Paul Allen Collection preview. Photo by Micaela Preble
Interior view of Christie’s gallery space during Paul Allen Collection preview. Photo by Micaela Preble

Paintings by Sam Francis continued to attract interest from buyers, and both lots in the day sale commanded prices well above their high estimates. Red No. 1 stood out, fetching $6,780,000 against a low estimate of $2,500,000. 

There was also keen enthusiasm for sculptures by Jacques Lipchitz. Figure set a record for the artist, selling for $4,380,000 against a low estimate of $700,000. Another work, Personnage debout, sold for more than double the low estimate. Nancy Rubins achieved other artist records. Alden Mason, Guillermo Kuitca, and Joseph Kosuth set a record for (A.A.I.A.I.).

A Record-Breaking Auction.

Couple in front of Andreas Gursky's Bibliothek at the Paul Allen Collection preview. Photo by Micaela Preble
Couple in front of Andreas Gursky’s Bibliothek at the Paul Allen Collection preview. Photo by Micaela Preble

The sale brought the overall total for Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection to $1,622,249,500. This sale broke the record for the most expensive private collection, surpassing the Macklowe and Rockefeller collections by major margins.

All of the estate proceeds of the art auction are to be donated to philanthropic causes following the endeavors of the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. He himself also helped establish several philanthropies centered on scientific and health research.

23 works achieved artists’ records, including Thomas Hart Benton, Jan Brueghel the Younger, Paul Cézanne, Henri Edmond Cross, Max Ernst, Sam Francis, Lucien Freud, Paul Gauguin, Barbara Hepworth, Jasper Johns, Gustav Klimt, Guillermo Kuitca, Jacques Lipchitz, Alden Mason, Diego Rivera, Nancy Rubens, George Seurat, Henri Le Sidaner, Paul Signac, Edward Steichen, Vincent van Gogh, Andrew Wyeth, and the artist duo Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen.

The high prices affirmed Allen’s discerning taste and eye for art, which he was likely to appreciate. The sale also affirms an interesting point of view given the current economic climate and what lies ahead.

However, after these two days, all eyes will be fixed on New York next week for the continued auctions being held.

Masterworks is a fintech company democratizing the art market. Our investors are able to fractionally invest in $1mn+ works of art by some of the world's most famous and sought-after artists.