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Microsoft Co-Founder’s Art Collection Sells for $1.5 Billion


A auctioneer stands at a podium reading christies in front of a large crowd as he took bids for Georges Seurat's Les poseuses

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s collection went for over $1.5 billion, making it one of the most successful art auctions in history.
Photo: Christie’s

Original Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s massive art collection has already sold for over $1.506 billion as of Wednesday morning, according to the auction house Christie’s. More than half of those lots have sold for far above their estimated price range, and five of the paintings were priced above $100 million. In years past, according to Christie’s, only two other paintings had claimed such a high price tag. Now five of them went out in a single night.

Christie’s called the sale of works from 500 years of art history, including both historical and contemporary art, the largest single-owner sale that has already eclipsed records for rich folks buying up priceless works of art. Many of these paintings have done tours in museums before ending up in Allen’s private collection. The biggest sale of the night Wednesday was 19th century French artist Georges Seurat’s Les Poseuses, Ensemble which went for $149.2 million.

Jody Allen, Paul Allen’s sister, Paul G. Allen Foundation board member and executor of his estate, wrote prior to the art sale “Paul truly understood the power and significance of art and was always happy to share that experience with others.” Forbes noted that pieces like Diego Rivera’s The Rivals was snatched up by Allen in the last year of his life, back in 2018, for $9.8 million. While it was originally a mystery as to who bought the painting, the art sold for $14.1 million from Allen’s collection. The top end of the art market will always increase the most in value, but a four-year jump by nearly $4 million is quite exceptional.

Paul Cézanne’s La Montagne Sainte-Victoire

Paul Cézanne’s La Montagne Sainte-Victoire
Image: Paul Cézanne/Christie’s

Another recent Christie’s auction from the collection of billionaire couple Ann and Gordon Getty contained a similar number of lots and went for $1.6 million. Only 62 of Allen’s objects were sold thus far, and they’ve already fetched many, many times that number. A spokesperson for Christie’s told Gizmodo that, though the auction house is used to selling large collections, “the Allen collection certainly stands out in quality, the breadth, and condition of the works.”

Christie’s said the money from the sale will go to “philanthropy,” though the names of those groups or charities have yet to be disclosed, if they ever will. In life, Allen was a member of the Giving Pledge, promising to donate “the majority” of his fortune to various causes centered on “new ideas” and “accelerat[ing] discovery.”

Still, Allen apparently had a strong eye for art, finding some of the most sought after artists and acquiring strong examples of their work. Other art on display included works from Paul Cezanne and Jasper Johns. Two Vincent Van Gogh paintings, Verger avec cyprus and the black and white Parc a Arles avec un coin de la Miason Jaune, went for $117 million and $3.7 million respectively. Some lucky person sunk $137.8 million into Cézanne’s La Montagne Sainte-Victoire. Cézanne painted that mountain dozens of times, and as pointed out by Christie’s, the fattened, distorted way the artist depicted the mountain in this rendition inspired later cubist painters.

Jasper Johns’ 1960 painting Small False Start

Jasper Johns’ 1960 painting Small False Start
Image: Jasper Johns/Christie’s

Speaking of cubism, one of Pablo Picasso’s earlier works, Quatre baigneuses, went for $3.4 million, way above the $600,000 to $800,000 estimated price range. More modern art pieces such as Lucian Freud’s 1981 piece Large Interior, W11 (after Watteau) went for $86.2 million. Johns’ 1960 painting Small False Start, full of tricky off-colored words, sold for $55.3 million, making it the most expensive painting sold when an artist was still alive. Allen’s collection also contained sculptures from the likes of Alberto Giacomettia and Louise Bourgeois.

And that’s just part 1 of a two-day sale that will likely fetch even more. Part II was scheduled to start today at 10 a.m. ET. A livestream of the sale is available here. The biggest ticket items went up on Wednesday, and the rest of the collection may only go for another couple hundred million, according to their estimated value.

Allen died in 2018 at the age of 65 after being afflicted with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He was, as evidenced just by the vast art collection being sold, extremely wealthy. The story of his start with Bill Gates and founding of Microsoft, as well as their subsequent falling out—especially as Allen fought back his cancer diagnosis—has been retold in multiple biographies and other books about the reigning tech giant that is Microsoft. Allen was also reportedly musically gifted, at least according to famed music producer Quincy Jones.



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