The evening sale of 59 select highlights on November 9 generated a premium inclusive $1.51bn (£1.32bn) with the 95 lot day sale which followed raising a further $116m (£101.8m). All the works had been guaranteed either by Christie’s itself or financed by third parties meaning they were always bound to sell.
At the evening sale, a string of auction records came for some of the biggest names in 19th and 20th century art including Georges Seurat, Gustav Klimt, Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and Lucian Freud. The event posted three of the top 10 prices ever achieved at auction.
While the top-end of the art market has a level of inflation all of its own as the main auction houses continually extend their global reach, the fact that the supply of historically important Impressionist and Modern paintings has diminished in the last decade has also pushed up price levels.
The previous high for a single owner collection was set barely a year earlier: the Macklowe Collection that made $922.2m (£686.5m) at Sotheby’s in November 2021, which in turn outscored the David and Peggy Rockefeller collection that raised $835.1m (£659.6m) at Christie’s in 2018.
Allen, who died in 2018, founded Microsoft in 1975 with childhood friend Bill Gates. He came up with the company’s name which was short for ‘micro-computer software’.
A multi-billionaire, he established his art collection over four decades by buying at auction and also acquiring works privately. In accordance with his wishes, all proceeds from the Christie’s sales will go to philanthropic causes.
At the evening sale, US bidders accounted for half of the active participants while around a quarter of the sale by value went to Asian buyers according to Christie’s.
Three lots were knocked down above $100m with the top lot of the night, Seurat’s Les Poseuses, Ensemble (Petite version), drawing four bidders and selling at $130m (£114m). The sum stands third on the list of all-time highest auction prices.
The buyer, who was bidding on the phone via the deputy chairman of Christie’s Asia Xin Li-Cohen, will pay a cool $149.2m (£130.9m) with premium. Like most of the top lots at the sale it had an unpublished ‘estimate on request’ which was understood to be in excess of $100m.
The picture itself, an oil on canvas from 1888, was deemed a vibrant and dynamic example of Seurat’s trademark pointillist technique. It was a smaller version of Les Poseuses in the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia.
The 16 x 20in (39 x 50cm) oil on canvas shows three nude figures in the artist’s studio with arguably his most famous work, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte hanging in the background. Allen had bought it privately in 1999.
It smashed the previous auction high for Seurat four-times over – La rade de Grandcamp (Le port de Grandcamp), a larger work, had made $33m (£22.1m) at the Rockefeller sale.
Among Allen’s auction buys which made a handsome return was Cézanne’s La Montagne Sainte-Victoire. Allen bid $35m (£24.3m) for the brightly coloured landscape – the last of the series in private hands – at Phillips, de Pury & Luxembourg in 2001. Here, with two bidders interested, it was knocked down at $120m (£105.3m).
The previous auction high for the artist was the $60.5m (£37.8m) including premium for a still life from the Whitney collection sold at Sotheby’s New York in 1999.
The highest price paid for a Cézanne painting however is believed to be over $250m for The Card Players sold privately in 2012 to the Qatari royal family.
The Allen collection also posted a record for Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) when Verger avec Cyprès, painted in Arles in April 1888, was knocked down at $102m (£89.5m). It fell to a bidder represented by Xin Li-Cohen (although a different paddle number to the winner of the Seurat).
A Tahitian period Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), Maternité II, that Allen bought Sotheby’s New York in 2004 for $35m (£18.9m), fetched $92m (£80.7m), again a record sum.
Freud’s big return
An even greater return came for Lucian Freud’s Large Interior, W11 (after Watteau) which Allen acquired for $5.3m (£3.25m) at Sotheby’s New York in 1998 (a record for the artist at the time of sale). With the estimate here believed to be in excess of $75m, it was knocked down on the lower end of expectations although the $75m sum was well above the $50m (£32m) record for which was set by Benefits Supervisor Resting at Christie’s New York in 2015.
The large scale group portrait from the early 1980s shows four characters from Freud’s life: his daughter, Bella, and stepson, Kai, as well as two of the artist’s lovers Celia Paul and Suzy Boyt. The composition is loosely based on Pierrot Content, a painting by the French artist Jean Antoine Watteau.
Allen owned several important Old Masters, most prominently Sandro Botticelli’s (1445-1510) Madonna of the Magnificat which fetched $42m (£36.8m) at Christie’s and a Canaletto (1697-1768) view of the Piazza San Marco in Venice that made $8.8m (£7.72m).
After the sale Christie’s vice chairman of 20th and 21st century art Max Carter said: “We may never see this range, quantity and quality of masterpieces in one private collection again.”
$1 = £1.14