Paintings and sculptures from the collection of Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen surpassed the $1.5 billion barrier at Christie’s New York on Wednesday night, making it the largest sale in the history of auctions. This occurred just when it seemed that the sky-high art market could not soar much higher.
It was the first of two Allen sales, and it broke a record that had stood for six months at Sotheby’s. That record had been established for art from Harry and Linda Macklowe, divorcing couples whose divorce settlement included the sale of their collection. That record had been set at $922 million.
The salesroom barely applauded as five lots surpassed the mark of $100 million, including Georges Seurat’s “Les Poseuses, Ensemble (Petite version)” ($149 million, with fees); Paul Cézanne’s 1888-90 Cubism precursor “La Montagne Sainte-Victoire” ($138 million); van Gogh’s verdant scene of Arles, “Verger avec cyprès” ($117 million); and Gustav Klim
The previous record for the artist at auction had been broken by the Klimt sale, which brought in $88 million for “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II” in 2006. This was the same year that Allen purchased his Klimt for around $40 million.
Attesting to the topmost slice of the art market’s apparent immunity to the effects of international events, the bidding activity at the auction was brisk on numerous pieces (there were four on the Seurat). The absence of a potentially market-rattling political disaster in Tuesday’s election, according to several art experts, provided consumers more security in parting with their money for lovely works.
According to Nicholas Maclean, a dealer with locations in both London and New York, “they want to put their money into physical assets.”
The art world is known for being jaded, but the sale of Allen’s artwork, who passed away in 2018, sparked a degree of passion that is not normally seen there. Those who had flocked to the auction included the owner of Christie’s, Francois-Henri Pinault, who sat in one of the more discreet skyboxes. Those who had flocked to the auction included the dealers Larry Gagosian, David Zwirner, Amalia Dayan, and Joe Nahmad. Others who had flocked to the auction included the usual suspects.
The dealer Dominique Lévy observed, “We are seeing a very concentrated activity from collectors as a reaction to rare masterpieces coming to market.” “We are seeing a very focused activity from collectors.” “A sale such as this does not represent the art market as a whole; rather, it reflects the demand for extraordinary and rare works.” It is of the utmost importance to have a solid understanding of the patina of this one-of-a-kind legendary origin.
The auction surpassed the $1 billion barrier when Lot 32, an elegant standing statue by Alberto Giacometti titled “Femme de Venise III,” was purchased for $25 million. The original estimate for the sculpture was between $15 million and $20 million. The fact that the art market had just created history was not brought to the attention of people in the room by the auctioneer, who chose not to mention this new milestone.
The first three lots were all sold for prices that were far higher than their projections. Among them was Edward Steichen’s gloomy and eerie photograph from 1904 titled “Flatiron,” which depicted the Flatiron Building in New York City. It established a new record for the artist by selling for $12 million, which was four times more than the top estimate. It was the second highest price ever paid for a picture, the highest being $12.4 million, which was paid for Man Ray’s 1924 image titled “Le Violon d’Ingres,” which was sold at Christie’s in May of last year.
More than 20,000 individuals were able to examine the collection in advance, and the queues to do so stretched along Rockefeller Plaza in the middle of the city for up to two hours. Art enthusiasts who are anxious to witness masterworks before many of them escape into private collections are often the kind of people that attend these previews.