I.M. Pei’s US$25m Art Collection to Be Auctioned Off at Christie’s

Celebrated architect I.M Pei gained international recognition for his large, elegantly designed urban buildings. His famous legacy includes the Louvre Pyramid in Paris and the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong. In addition to his passion in architecture, Pei was also an art collector and a personal friend of many renowned artists including Barnett Newman, Jean Dubuffet, and Zao Wou-Ki.

Together with his wife, Pei assembled an exceptional selection of paintings, drawings, works on paper and sculpture. The Chinese-American architect passed away this May at the age of 102. The collection, a sophisticated blend of artworks by Eastern and Western artists, will be offered through Christie’s major sales sites in New York, Hong Kong, and Paris this fall across various art categories. The full collection of 59 works is expected to exceed US$25m.

The Louvre Pyramid in Paris

The Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong

Born in Guangzhou, China in 1917, I.M. Pei was a member of an illustrious family whose prominence extended back to the Ming Dynasty. Eileen Loo, born in Tianjin, China in 1920, hailed from an equally respected family with a granduncle, Tang Shao-Yi, who served as the first Prime Minister of the Republic of China (1911-12). Her maternal grandfather was Yin Tang Chang, Ambassador from China to Washington in the early part of the 20th century.

Lifelong scholars, the couple married in 1942 immediately after Eileen Loo graduated from Wellesley College, where she studied art, and as I.M. Pei was beginning his career as an architect, having recently graduated from MIT’s School of Architecture.

Eileen and I.M. Pei

Recalling her memories about the friendship between Pei and many artists, Liane Pei, daughter of Eileen and I.M. Pei, said: “Whenever we were in Paris, we would visit Zao Wou-ki, whom I always referred to as ‘Uncle Wou-ki,’ to see his latest paintings. Years later, I recall a splendid trip to Venice with Annalee Newman, whom I adored as a grandmother.”

I.M. Pei first met Zao Wou-Ki in 1952 at the Galerie Pierre Loeb in Paris and established an immediate camaraderie. As I.M. Pei’s career as an architect gained momentum and success, he began commissioning Zao Wou-Ki to create paintings for the walls of his building projects.

Zao Wou-Ki and I.M. Pei in 1976. Françoise Marquet

Juin-Octobre 1985, Largest Work by Zao Wou-Ki

Juin-Octobre 1985 was on display in Raffles City in Singapore|Courtesy Foundation Zao Wou-Ki

Last year, Zao Wou-ki’s Juin-Octobre 1985, the largest work ever created by the artist, was sold for a whopping HK$510m (US$65m). The work was in fact a commission by I.M. Pei to the artist. When Pei was given the reins to design Singapore’s Raffles City, he had invited Zao Wou-Ki to tour the premises, and commissioned the artist to create a large panel painting for the grand lobby of the main building before the completion of the building. The painting was finally completed after Zao working on it tirelessly for five months.

27.3.70 by Zao Wou-Ki. Estimate: HK$38m-48m (US$4.8m-6m)

There is no surprise to see Zao’s work in Pei collection as part of the highlights at Christie’s sales. Zao’s 27.3.70 will be offered at the sale with an estimate of HK$38m-48m (US$4.8m-6m). As Zao’s work grew increasingly abstract during the 1960s, he began to move away from the detail-heavy style that characterized his oracle-bone period towards a bolder, more energetic mode of painting. By 1971, Zao had returned to the brush-and-ink technique he learned in China, with work that reflected its sources in Chinese traditions but also his conceptual roots in Western abstraction.

Untitled 4, 1950 by Barnett Newman. Estimate: in the region of US$8m

Untitled 5, 1950 by Barnett Newman. Estimate: in the region of US$5m

Barnett Newman

Barnett Newman’s Untitled 4, 1950 and Untitled 5, 1950 belong to a limited group of paintings that Newman executed in 1950, estimated at US$5m and US$8m respectively. These two works come from a series of six Newman created in that year, of which three are in museum collections including MoMA, Art Institute of Chicago, and Menil Collection, Houston.

Both paintings were acquired by Eileen and I.M. Pei in the mid-1970s directly from Newman’s widow Annalee, who remained a close friend of the Pei family after her husband’s passing in 1970.

La Brouette (The Wheelbarrow) by Jean Dubuffet. Estimate: €350,000-550,000 (US$387,000-609,000)

Jean Dubuffet

A seminal work by Jean Dubuffet is also be presented at the auction. Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985) was a self-taught painter. He was a merchant at first and took up painting at his mid age. He was best known for founding the movement Art Brut, an art by self-taught art makers or artists who have little or no professional art training.

Jean Dubuffet’s La Brouette (The Wheelbarrow), estimated at €350,000-550,000, is at the heart of the artist’s Hourloupe cycle, which started in 1962 and would occupy him for 12 years. During this long cycle of creation, Jean Dubuffet employed the use of everyday objects and utensils, gas ovens, chairs, boats, stairs, coffeemakers, teapots or the wheelbarrow, which would become emblematic of the artist.

I.M. Pei at the East Building of National Gallery of Art in 1978

A close friend of the couple, I.M. Pei commissioned Dubuffet to create a unique work for display in the East Building at The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., which the architect designed and unveiled in June 1978.

Other highlights from Peis’ collection include works by Franz Kline, Zhang Daqian, Qi Baishi, Willem de Kooning, Henry Moore, Jacques Lipchitz, Xu Shiqi and Isamu Noguchi. Please stay tuned for more details!

Lot details

Zao Wou-ki (b. 1920). 27.3.70. Oil on canvas
Created in: 1970
Size: 52 x 77 1⁄2 in.
Estimate: HK$38,000,000 - 48,000,000

Barnett Newman. Untitled 4, 1950
Created in: 1950
Size: 74 x 6 x 3 in.
Estimate: in the region of US$8,000,000

Barnett Newman. Untitled 5, 1950. Oil on canvas
Painted in: 1950
Size: 77 x 3 ½ x 2 in.
Estimate: US$5,000,000

Jean Dubuffet. La Brouette (The Wheelbarrow). Oil on canvas
Created in: 1964
Size: 35 x 45 in.
Estimate: €350,000 - 550,000

Other highlights from the collection of Eileen and I.M. PEI

Franz Kline. Untitled. Il on Panel.
Created in: 1955
Size: 42 ¾ x 34 in.
Estimate: US$3,000,000 - 5,000,000

Jacques Lipchitz. Man with Guitar.
Created in: 1925
Height: 23 1/8
Estimate: US$700,000 - 1,000,000

Henry Moore (1898-1986). Reclining Figure
Conceived in 1932; this plaster version executed in 1983.
Estimate: US$150,000 – 200,000


Paris: 13 - 17 September
Hong Kong: 3 - 6 October
Los Angeles: 15 - 17 October
New York: 1 - 13 November