Christie’s Will Sell Architect IM Pei’s $25 Million Art Collection, Including Works by Some of His Famous Friends

The collection includes works by Barnett Newman, Jean Dubuffet, and Zao Wou-Ki, among others. 

Eileen Pei and IM Pei attend a Marc Riboud exhibition opening at Gallery Hermes in 2005. Photo: Michael Loccisano/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images.

When Pritzker Prize-winning architect IM Pei died this spring, he left behind a world-class art collection that he and his wife Eileen had amassed over the course of their 72-year marriage. This fall, the majority of that collection—including works by Barnett Newman, Jean Dubuffet, and Zao Wou-Ki—will hit the auction block at Christie’s. 

Following a global tour, the collection of 59 works will sold during several sales in New York and Hong Kong in November, and in Paris in December. Christie’s estimates the full slate of works to be worth more than $25 million.

“The Pei name is one that resonates around the world, integrated into the landscape of the dozens of cities that feature a Pei-designed art museum, concert hall, university, hospital, office tower or civic building,” Marc Porter, Christie’s chairman of the Americas, said in a statement. IM Pei designed numerous museums, including the glass pyramid at the Louvre and the Museum of Islamic Art. Porter adds that the collection “speaks to the wonderful relationship Eileen and IM Pei shared as equal partners in marriage, scholarship, design, and art collecting.” 

Zao Wou-Ki, 27.3.70 (1970). Courtesy of Christie's.

Zao Wou-Ki, 27.3.70 (1970). Courtesy of Christie’s.

Among the highlights are two Color Field canvases by Newman, a close acquaintance of the Peis. Titled Untitled 4 and Untitled 5, the oblong paintings were both executed in 1950 and feature the artist’s signatures zips of banded color. (Christie’s expects Untitled 4 to fetch around $8 million—the high estimate for the collection—while Untitled 5 is estimated at $5 million.) Both works were a gift to the couple from Newman’s widow in the mid-1970s.

A pair of paintings by Chinese-French artist Zao Wou-Ki are among the standouts in Christie’s 20th-century Asian art evening sale on November 23 in Hong Kong. The auction house released the estimate for one of the two: Wou-Ki’s 1970 abstraction 27.3.70 is expected to go for between 38,000,000 – 48,000,000 Hong Kong dollars ($4.8 million- $6.1 million). Meanwhile, several works by Dubuffet, another longtime friend of the couple, are led by the artist’s 1964 painting La Brouette (The Wheelbarrow). The large oil-on-canvas painting, which was created as part of Dubuffet’s famous “Hourloupe” cycle, is estimated at €350,000 – 550,000 ($388,000–$610,00). 

Jean Dubuffet, La Brouette (The Wheelbarrow) (1964). Courtesy of Christie's.

Jean Dubuffet, La Brouette (The Wheelbarrow) (1964). Courtesy of Christie’s.

Other notable names in the collection include Isamu Noguchi, Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, and Henry Moore.

Liane Pei, the daughter of Eileen and IM Pei, said in a statemetn: “My parents’ collection is a personal reflection of how they lived. They shared a deep curiosity about the world and I have wonderful memories of traveling with them. No matter the country, they always seemed to have friends, many of whom were artists, architects, gallerists, and museum directors, ready to welcome them.”

A selection of the Pei’s collection will go on view at Christie’s Paris from September 13-17, before traveling to Hong Kong and LA in October. The full collection will be exhibited in New York in November, prior to the sales. 

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