It pays to keep a secret. Before the billionaire Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, died in 2018, he rarely showed off his art collection publicly. Despite owning works by Rothko, Monet, and Botticelli, as well as Seurat’s Les Poseuses, Ensemble, considered the most significant piece by the artist in private hands, Allen was more interested in procuring masterpieces than peacocking. “He had very good taste,” says Pablo Schugurensky, who served as his art adviser from 1998 to 2005. “He wanted to have significant works.”
This month that all changes, when Christie’s hosts “Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection,” a sale of more than 150 works, including Small False Start by Jasper Johns and Cézanne’s La Montagne Sainte-Victoire; the auction is expected to fetch about $1 billion, with all proceeds going to charity. That’s the biggest estimate for any collection to come to auction, ever, even adjusting for inflation. (But not by much: In 2018 the Rockefeller Collection brought $835 million at Christie’s, and more recently 65 of Harry and Linda Macklowe’s works sold for a total of $922 million at Sotheby’s.)
During his life Allen made anonymous loans to museums and organized two exhibitions from his collection. In 2006, “Double Take: From Monet to Lichtenstein” included 28 works and was curated for the Experience Music Project in Seattle by art scholar Paul Tucker. In 2015 the Portland Art Museum, the Seattle Art Museum, and the Paul G. Allen Family Collection organized an exhibition of 39 works that explored the evolution of landscape painting over 400 years.
After Allen’s death his family lent three paintings—a Lucian Freud, a Botticelli, and a Georgia O’Keeffe—to the Seattle Art Museum, but today some critics lament that the collection won’t be given to an American institution. But Allen had no children, and it’s not unusual for a collection like his to be sold instead of bequeathed or donated.
“Some people are raising their eyebrows about it not going to a museum, but I don’t think it was ever promised to a museum,” says Schugurensky. “They came from the private sector, and they are going to go back there. The great news is that they are committing the proceeds to philanthropy.”
This story appears in the November 2022 issue of Town & Country. SUBSCRIBE NOW
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