Microsoft co-founder’s art collection breaks record at $1.5 billion auction

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The artwork from the private collection of Paul G. Allen, the late Microsoft co-founder, raised more than $1.5 billion on Wednesday and became the biggest sale of a single owner in the history of auctions.

Works by Georges Seurat, Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and Gustav Klimt were sold for more than $100 million on a starry night at Christie’s auction house in New York.

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Spanning 500 years of art history, Allen’s collection is being offered over the course of two nights, with all proceeds going to philanthropic causes. Christie’s had initially estimated that the more than 150 works would reach US$1 billion (about R$5.18 billion), but the record sum was surpassed even before the first day was completed.

Works by contemporary artists such as Jasper Johns and Lucian Freud were also among the record-breaking works. Paintings by Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe and Jackson Pollock are among dozens scheduled to be auctioned on Thursday night (10).

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The night’s top prize was won by Seurat’s “Les Poseuses, Ensemble (Petite version)”, which sold for $149.2 million, nearly five times the previous record for a work by the French artist. .


In turn, “La Montagne Sainte-Victoire”, oil on canvas by Cézanne, with more than 30 views of a French mountain range, sold for almost US$ 137.8 million (about R$ 714 million). Allen acquired the famous mountain scene in 2001 for $35 million, then the second-highest price paid for a Cézanne at auction, according to Max Carter, vice president of art for the 20th and 21st centuries from Christie’s.

Only five of the Sainte-Victoire painter’s type works are in private collections, added Carter. “Each one has a slightly different point of view. Most of them are a little further back. [na paisagem],” Carter told CNN in an interview before the auction. “It is also rare as it is not obscured by any trees in front of the mountain,” she added.

"Verger avec cyprès" is now the most expensive Van Gogh painting ever sold at auction

A painting by Van Gogh, “Verger avec cypres,” however, fetched nearly $117.2 million and became the artist’s most expensive work sold at auction. Painted in Arles, France, two years before the Dutch painter’s death, it is “as special as any Van Gogh we’ve offered in 30 years,” according to Carter.

That’s when their colors became detached from reality and began to be dictated by imagination,” explained Carter. Apart from the orchard series, “only five are in private hands. The vast majority are in museums,” he added.

The two other artworks to attract nine-figure offers were Gauguin’s “Maternité II,” which sold for $105.7 million, and Klimt’s “Birch Forest,” a large-scale landscape taken for US$ 104.5 million (about R$ 553 million).

Gustav Klimt

Showcasing a forest scene on the outskirts of Vienna, and painted in Klimt’s romantic art nouveau style, this latest artwork is “almost like a fairy tale”. The sale set a new auction record for the Austrian artist a decade and a half after it was part of a landmark sale that included five Klimt masterpieces once looted by Nazis.

Gauguin’s painting also set an auction record for the artist’s work (although a painting negotiated in a private sale in 2015 reportedly fetched $300 million). Allen bought the canvas, which has religious airs and terracotta tones in its mother-son composition in 2004 for a record $39 million.

The work was painted during the 10 years that Gauguin lived in French Polynesia, a period fraught with controversy (he had a son with a teenage girl), but which produced paintings that are still highly sought after.

“Most of the paintings or drawings that come up for sale tend to be from later times in your life,” Carter said.


contemporary masters

After spending several decades assembling his collection, the Microsoft co-founder has lent works to museums around the world, including Britain’s National Gallery and Royal Academy of Arts and New York’s Metropolitan.

The “Seeing Nature” exhibition, based on his collection, toured the US in 2016 and 2017, with stops at the Seattle Museum of Art and Minneapolis Institute of Arts, among others. Allen died in 2018, aged 65, from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“Allen continued collecting until the year of his death,” recalled Johanna Flaum, vice president of 20th and 21st century art at Christie’s.

While most of the most expensive pieces sold on the 9th are from the 20th century, contemporary masterpieces have also attracted record sums.

A 1980s painting by British painter Lucian Freud, “Large Interior, W11 (after Watteau)”, was auctioned for $86 million, beating the artist’s previous record of $100 million. $56.2 million (about R$297 million). Allen acquired the painting in 1998 for $5.8 million, about 15 years after Freud completed the work.

Lucian Freud

Widely exhibited around the world, the painting took two years to complete. Freud modeled her after the figures of French artist Jean-Antoine Watteau in “Les Jaloux” from the early 18th century. But the Brit populated his scene using his own family members.

“From the moment it was painted, the picture has been widely considered Freud’s finest,” Flaum said.

“The painting includes a compilation of those who were closest to Freud: a current girlfriend, ex-girlfriend, (his) children,” he explained. “His world is encapsulated in the figures, so it’s very personal,” he said.

Elsewhere, a total of six works by Jasper Johns, the prolific American artist who mounted a two-city retrospective in New York and Philadelphia last year, were offered for sale over the two auction nights.

On Wednesday, “Small False Start” sold for more than $55.3 million.

Jasper Johns

In addition to setting an auction record for the 92-year-old artist, it is now among the most expensive works by a living artist to be auctioned.

“One of the interesting things about the Johns market is that few works make it to auction even with so much significant work,” Flaum said. “Very good prices were negotiated in private. The auction market has an appetite for Johns’ superior work.”

The diversity of work in Allen’s collection includes not only different periods but also varied mediums. Sculptures by Alberto Giacometti and Louise Bourgeois are also featured throughout the two-day sale, along with a hanging furniture by Alexander Calder, a ceramic vase by Pablo Picasso and a neon by American artist Bruce Nauman.

“It’s hard to say there’s a unifying principle for a collection that spans 500 years of the greatest works of Western art,” Carter said. “But I think, to a certain extent, he was looking for artists who looked at the world in a different way, and who were looking to the future,” he added.

Microsoft co-founder Jody Allen’s sister stated before the sale that, for her brother, art was “analytical and emotional.”

“He believed that art expressed a unique vision of reality – combining the artist’s inner state and the inner gaze – in a way that would inspire us all. His collection reflects the diversity of his interests, with its own mystique and beauty.”

Source: CNN Brasil

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