Christie’s sold 60 works from the Paul G. Allen Collection for more than $1.5 billion on Wednesday night, as wealthy collectors around the world ignored economic and cryptocurrency concerns to invest in trophy artworks.
Five paintings sold for more than $100 million, including the night’s top seller, Georges Seurat’s “Les Poseuses, Ensemble” for $149.2 million. Several works sold for three or four times their estimates, with several artists, including Vincent van Gogh, Edward Steichen, and Gustav Klimt, setting new auction records.
The $1.506 billion sales total broke the previous record for the most expensive collection ever auctioned, set by the Harry and Linda Macklowe collection, which sold for $922 million at Sotheby’s. The total sales for the Allen collection will rise even higher Thursday morning when another 95 lots are auctioned off.
The flurry of eight- and nine-figure sales suggested that the world’s wealthy continue to regard masterpiece art as a hedge against inflation and possibly a safer store of value than increasingly volatile stocks and cryptocurrencies. The sale occurred on the same day that the Dow dropped more than 600 points and bitcoin fell to its lowest level since November 2020.
The late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s collection was a treasure trove of masterpieces spanning 500 years. Allen signed the Giving Pledge, promising to leave at least half of his fortune to charity, so all of the proceeds will go to charity.
Allen’s keen eye for great art resulted in excellent investments. He paid $40 million for Gustav Klimt’s “Birch Forest” in 2006, and it sold for $104 million on Wednesday.
“La Montagne Sainte-Victoire” by Paul Cezanne sold for $137.8 million. Vincent van Gogh’s “Verger avec Cypres” sold for $117 million, breaking the artist’s previous auction record set in 1990. “Maternite II” by Paul Gaugin sold for $105.7 million.
One of Lucian Freud’s largest masterpieces, “Large Interior, W11 (after Watteau),” sold for $86.3 million. A painting of Claude Monet’s “Waterloo Bridge” sold for $64.5 million.
Bidding was fierce around the world, with Christie’s specialists bidding over the phone on behalf of clients from Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and the United States. Several works sold for far more than their estimates. A famous photograph of New York’s Flatiron Building by Edward Steichen sold for $11.8 million, making it the second-most expensive photograph ever sold and smashing the $2 million to $3 million estimate.
An Andrew Wyeth painting titled “Day Dream” sparked a bidding war, selling for $23.3 million, far exceeding its estimate of $2 million to $3 million. Despite the current collector obsession with contemporary art, several of Allen’s Old Masters have sold for more than $8 million. Botticelli’s “Madonna of the Magnificat” sold for $48 million.