The Late Billionaire Collector Paul Allen’s Art Could Fetch More Than $1 Billion at Christie’s, Becoming the Biggest Single-Owner Sale in History
The proceeds of the massive collection will go to philanthropic causes, as directed by Allen.
What may be the most expensive collection the art market has ever seen is heading to auction this fall.
Christie’s won the consignment of the collection of the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the auction house announced. The 150 works are expected to fetch a whopping $1 billion when they are offered in New York in November.
Carrying the title “Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection,” the tranche spans 500 years of art history, reflecting the depth and range of Allen’s tastes. All proceeds will be dedicated to philanthropy in line with Allen’s wishes, according to a statement from the auction house.
Allen began publicly sharing works from his collection in the late 1990s through often-anonymous loans to museums around the world. At the time of his death, he was the world’s 27th richest person.
“You have to be doing it because you just love the works… and you know that all these works are going to outlast you,” Allen said in an interview for an exhibition of landscapes in his collection in 2006. “You’re only a temporary custodian of them.”
Christie’s claims the offering is poised to become the most expensive single-owner sale at auction ever, topping the blue-chip collections of the Rockefeller family, which pulled in $835 million in 2018, and the Macklowe Collection, which fetched $922 million across sales in 2021 and 2022.
Aside from two confirmed blockbuster pieces, Christie’s has remained mum on details of the consignment. A Paul Cézanne landscape, La montagne Sainte-Victoire (1888–90), carries an unpublished estimate in excess of $100 million. According to the Artnet Price Database, the same work sold at Phillips, de Pury, & Luxembourg (now Phillips) in 2001 for $38.5 million. The artist’s auction record currently stands at $60.5 million, set way back in 1999.
Also on offer is Jasper Johns’s Small False Start (1960), which carries an unpublished estimate of $50 million. Important works by Johns rarely come to auction; the artist’s public record, set in 2014, is $36 million for a flag painting from 1983. Privately, one 1958 work by Johns sold for as much as $110 million in 2010. Small False Start last hit the block in 1989, when it fetched $4.1 million.
Allen’s holdings reportedly also include major works from Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Roy Lichtenstein. Other highlights are said to include a Claude Monet’s painting of a Rouen cathedral; Jasper Johns’s aluminum Numbers; Paul Gauguin’s Tahiti scene Maternity (II) (1899); and Georges Seurat’s The Models (1888), which has been described as the most important work by the artist in private hands.
Allen was a relatively private collector, but a fearless bidder at auction. Bloomberg reported he picked up Claude Monet’s luminous 1891 haystack painting at Christie’s in 2016 for $81.4 million after a 14-minute bidding war. He sold occasionally, too, parting with a Gerhard Richter painting of a jet for $25.6 million—more than double what he had paid around 10 years earlier; the went on to become subject to a legal battle.
The Wall Street Journal noted that rare exhibitions of Allen’s personal collection also revealed works by Sandro Botticelli, Jan Brueghel the Younger, and Canaletto.
“It would be great to see the collection coming to one of Seattle museums, but it’s going to philanthropy so it’s just as good,” Pablo Schugurensky, Allen’s longtime art advisor, told Artnet News. “It’s going to be a very exciting exhibition. From Botticelli to Jasper Johns, there should be great quality. People can start saving for the sale.”
Following Allen’s death in 2018, now-former Seattle Art Museum director Kimerly Rorschach told Artnet News: “He had so many interests, but he was passionate as an art collector.” Rorschach said Allen was a generous supporter of the museum and that his contribution to its Olympic Sculpture Park included a land purchase at “a critical time in our history.”
Allen himself said his earliest and “most impactful” experience with art occurred during a visit to the Tate Gallery in London as a young man, where works by Monet and Turner left him “astonished.”
The billionaire sought to transform Seattle into a Pacific Northwest art hub. His company Vulcan established museums for his collection of vintage computers and military artifacts, as well as a movie theater that housed his cinema memorabilia collection. (Several of these institutions closed after his death.) Allen also spearheaded the establishment of the Seattle Art Fair, which returned this summer after a brief hiatus.
“To Paul, art was both analytical and emotional,” Jody Allen, Paul’s sister and executor of his estate, said in a statement. “He believed that art expressed a unique view of reality-combining the artist’s inner state and inner eye—in a way that can inspire us all.”
The charitable recipients of the sale’s proceeds have not yet been made public. During his lifetime, Allen funneled more than $2.6 billion of his fortune into causes related to bioscience, art, music, film, and the environment.
Christie’s CEO Guillaume Cerutti called Allen an “inspirational figure,” and said the quality of the works combined with Allen’s philanthropy will make the sale “an event of unprecedented magnitude.”
Additional reporting by Katya Kazakina
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