Museum-quality treasures assembled in Paul Allen's US$1B collection (Part I)

A few months ago, Christie's made headlines when it revealed that it had secured the rights to sell Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen's remarkable art collection. The sale of more than 150 artworks spanning 500 years is poised to pull in more than US$1 billion and become the most expensive single-owner sale on the open market.

While the auction house has been keeping what's on offer to its chest for a bit, the full details of the history-making sale is finally unveiled: the first part of the sale will be held on 9 November with 61 lots available, the second part on 10 November selling the rest. As Paul Allen directed, all the proceeds will be dedicated to philanthropy. 

Among the masterworks hitting the auction block are Paul Cezanne's magisterial vision of the Mont Sainte-Victoires, Georges Seurat’s pointillist masterwork Les Poseuses and Vincent Van Gogh's Verger avec cyprès. All of these are expected to fetch over US$100 million.

This article focuses on the first four top picks by The Value. Click here for the story of Paul Allen. 

Bill Gates (left) and Paul G. Allen (right)

Lot 14 | Paul Cézanne | La Montagne Sainte-Victoire, Oil on canvas
Created during 1888 - 1890
65.1 x 81 cm

  • Ambroise Vollard, Paris
  • Auguste Pellerin, Paris (acquired from the above)
  • Jean-Victor Pellerin, Paris (by descent from the above, 1929)
  • Georges A. Embiricos, Lausanne
  • Heinz Berggruen, Paris (acquired from the above, 1982, then by descent); sale, Phillips, de Pury & Luxembourg, New York, 7 May 2001, lot 5
  • Acquired at the above sale by the late owner

Estimate on request, in excess of US$120,000,000

The landscape around France’s Aix-en-Provence is dominated by the peak of Mont Sainte-Victoire. A symbol of the south of France, it was also a never-ending inspiration for Paul Cezanne.

In the early 1880s, Cezanne moved back to his hometown in Aix and remained there until his death in 1906. Over those twenty years, he produced dozens of canvases portraying the Mont Sainte-Victoire. In each work, Cezanne would alter something about the scene, from lighting and colour, to vantage points and the mood he tried to evoke. 

Throughout the series, one can witness the artistic development of the post-Impressionist master: the more he painted, the more abstracted the landscape would become. While his earlier works employed a more classically constructed composition, his later work was a precursor to Cubism, where he broke the visible field into fragments and flattened the image into abstraction by removing recognizable details.

The Mont Sainte-Victoire, phtograph by John Rewald

La Montagne Sainte-Victoire vue de Montbriand, circa 1882-1885 | The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

La Montagne Sainte-Victoire au grand pin, circa 1887 | The Courtauld Gallery, London

La Montagne Sainte-Victoire, painted in 1888-1890 dating towards the end of the group, is a testament to this change of style. Rather than depicting Mont Sainte-Victoire in the distance, framed or partially obscured by a single pine tree, as in the earlier works of the series, in the present work Cezanne opted for a more daring composition, picturing the natural wonder centrally and from a closer viewpoint.

Cezanne once explained, "Nature isn’t at the surface; it’s in depth. Colors are the expression on this surface, of this depth. They rise up out of the earth’s roots: they are its life, the life of ideas.” Here, the mountain is heightened by vibrant patches of colours in a palette of soft blues, lilacs and pinks, which lends the monumental landmark a sense of ephemeral lightness that perfectly captures the effect of visual perception. 

Formerly in the esteemed collections of Auguste Pellerin, George Embiricos, and Heinz Berggruen, the present work is one of only two of this series to remain in private hands; others are housed in museums including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, The Courtauld Gallery, London, and the Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

Lot 8 | Georges Seurat | Les Poseuses, Ensemble (Petite version), Oil on canvas
Created in 1888
39.5 x 50 cm

  • Jules F. Christophe, Paris (by 1892, then by descent)
  • B.A. Edynski and Max Hochschiller, Paris (by 1908)
  • Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., Paris
  • Alphonse Kann, Paris (by 1910, until at least 1917)
  • Marius de Zayas, New York (by 1921)
  • John Quinn, New York (by 1922)
  • Julia Quinn Anderson, New York (by descent from the above, 1924)
  • Mary Anderson Conroy, New York (by descent from the above)
  • Henry P. McIlhenny, Esq., Philadelphia (acquired from the above, 1936); sale, Christie's, London, 30 June 1970, lot 16 (world auction record for the artist at the time of sale)
  • Artemis, Luxembourg (acquired at the above sale)
  • Heinz Berggruen, Paris (acquired from the above, 1973)
  • Private collection (1997)
  • Acquired by the late owner, 3 December 1999

Estimate on request, in excess of US$100,000,000

Around the same time, another 19th-century French painter, Georges Seurat, was experimenting with dabs of pigment to pioneer a radical new technique – Pointillism, a revolutionary style of painting that used tiny dots in contrasting colours to produce an image. 

When the artist's tour-de-force pointillist-styled A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte debuted at the eighth and final Impressionist Exhibition in 1886, it caused a stir among both art world and general public. Although many welcomed it as a bold, innovative masterpiece of modern art, some questioned whether the meticulous planned application of paint would be appropriate for depicting a varied range of subjects and scenes.

Instead of defensing his work in the papers, the artist retreated to his studio and began to work on another large-scale canvas which would meet the challenge head-on and showcase the full expressive potential of pointillism. The result was Les Poseuses, which turned out to be one of the century's most celebrated and iconic works. 

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte | The Art Institute of Chicago

Les Poseuses on view at the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia

Poseuse debout, de face, étude pour “Les poseuses”, 1886-1887 | Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Seurat created a handful of drawings and oil studies in preparation for the final composition of Les Poseuses, including the present work, which is a smaller version of the final canvas, and the most complete and refined study of the scene among the related works. The larger canvas remained in the collection of the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia.

A loosely worked oil study could be found in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, among others which are now in the collections of esteemed museums, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Throughout the 20th century, this small canvas served as the primary means for scholars and the public to study Seurat’s intricate play of color and light, as well as the complex compositional arrangement of Les Poseuses. Here Seurat connected the Les Poseuses and La Grande Jattet by including several accessories and garments worn by the characters in La Grande Jatte within the studio scene. The orange parasol and straw hat, for instance, appear to directly echo the objects placed on the grass alongside the girl seated in the middle of the park scene. 

The only major figure‐subject by Seurat remaining in private hands, the work was last auctioned in 1970 at Christie's for US$1 million – a staggering price at the time, which also set the then auction record for the artist. The current record price for him lands at US$34 million for La rade de Grandcamp, sold at Christie's New York in 2018. This time with an unpublished estimate of over US$100 million, his auction record is bound to reset.

Lot 22 | Vincent van Gogh | Verger avec cyprès, Oil on canvas
Created in Arles in 1888
65.2 x 80.2 cm

  • Theo van Gogh, Paris (acquired from the artist, 7 May 1888)
  • Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, Paris (by descent from the above)
  • Andries Bonger, Amsterdam (by 1905, until at least 1912)
  • D'Audretsch Art Gallery, The Hague
  • Jack Niekerk Art Gallery, The Hague
  • Howard Young Art Gallery, New York (1928)
  • N.H. Holston, New York
  • J.K. Newman, New York; sale, American Art Association, New York, 6 December 1935, lot 39
  • Carroll Carstairs Art Gallery, New York (acquired at the above sale)
  • Charles Shipman and Joan Whitney Payson, New York (by 1938, until at least 1960)
  • Acquired by the late owner, 22 June 1998

Estimate on request, in excess of US$100,000,000

Though there is no formal estimate for the present work, the auction house expects it will fetch more than US$100 million. If it meets its estimate, the work would be a record price for Vincent van Gogh. Currently, his auction record is held by Portrait of Dr Paul Gachet, which went for US$83 million back in 1990 at Christie’s – and was also then the highest auction price for a work by any artist.

Painted in April in 1888, the present lot stands as a witness to Van Gogh’s beginning of his mature career. In February that year, the artist moved from Paris to Arles with a vision for a Promising Land, a utopia which he imagined would be like Japan, a country that fascinated him.

Although Van Gogh was only in Arles for 15 months, his time in the south proved to be the most prolific in his short yet extraordinary career. Here he produced some of his most famous works, including The starry night over the Rhone, Sunflowers and Bedroom at Arles.

Vincent van Gogh | Le verger blanc | Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

A few weeks after his arrival, Van Gogh was greeted with a sight that affirmed his long-held belief that Provence was a Japan of the south. The myriad fruit trees that proliferated all over this region bloomed, providing Van Gogh with his own cherry blossom festival.

Captivated by the motif he had found, he set out to create “a Provence orchard of tremendous gaiety,” capturing a variety of views of the different trees in blossom. By the end of April, Van Gogh had completed 14 canvases of the landscape, of which only five remained in private hands.

In Verger avec cyprès, Van Gogh worked fast with a pointillist style, portraying the sparkling intensity of light and color of the springtime with an array of speckled dots of color in thick impasto. He explained, "the season of orchards in blossom is so short, and you know these subjects are among the ones that cheer everyone up." 

Across the series, his handling of the orchard varies from the delicate, impastoed surface of the present work, to the bolder, broader strokes in some of the others. The majority of these can be found in museums, including the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Lot 11 | Paul Gauguin | Maternité II, Oil on burlap
Created in Tahiti in 1899
94.7 x 61 cm

  • The artist; Estate sale, Papeete, 2 September 1903, lot 104
  • Jean Cochin, Paris (acquired at the above sale)
  • Denys Cochin, Paris (1906)
  • Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., Paris (acquired from the above, 28 February 1910)
  • Alphonse Kann, Paris (acquired from the above, 28 February 1910)
  • (possibly) Michel Manzi, Paris (circa 1915)
  • Dikran Khan Kélékian, Paris and New York (by 1920); sale, American Art Association, New York, 30-31 January 1922, lot 152
  • Bourgeois Gallery, Paris (acquired at the above sale)
  • Adolph Lewisohn, New York (by 1926)
  • Sam Lewisohn, New York (by descent from the above, circa 1942)
  • Wildenstein & Co. Inc., New York (acquired from the above, 1942)
  • Mrs. Henry Huttleston Rogers Jr. (acquired from the above, 1943, until at least 1948)
  • Wildenstein & Co. Inc., New York (acquired from the above)
  • Edwin C. and Florence Vogel, New York (acquired from the above, 1952)
  • David Rockefeller, New York (acquired from the above, 1956)
  • John Seward Sr. and Barbara Piasecka Johnson, Princeton (acquired from the above, circa 1975, until at least 1990).
  • Nevill Keating Pictures, Ltd., London
  • Private collection (acquired from the above, circa 1997); sale, Sotheby's, New York, 4 November 2004, lot 15 (world auction record for the artist at the time of sale) 
  • Acquired at the above sale by the late owner

Estimate on request, in excess of US$90,000,000

While Van Gogh's dreamland was in Arles, his frienemy Paul Gaugin's was far away in the South Seas. After the two quarreled in 1888, Gaugin went back in Paris only to find it a distressing place to realize his artistic desires. A year after his 1893 inaugural exhibition of Tahitian works in Paris had been met with outrage, the artist wrote, "I have come to an unalterable decision to go and live forever in Polynesia without this eternal struggle against idiots." 

When he successfully gathered enough funds for his trip – thanks to a sale at Hôtel Drouot, he set sail to his exotic paradise Tahiti for the second time and never again return to Paris. As he immersed himself in local life, he was captivated by the appearance, daily rituals, gestures, language and lives of Mataiea’s inhabitants. 

Deeply inspired, Gauguin entered a period of heightened creativity, where he created a series of artworks depicting exotic idylls and beauties for which he is renowned for today. A verdant ode to fertility, the present Maternité II is one of two versions of this composition. The first, Maternité I, is now housed in the State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg.

Maternité I | the State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg

Other Highlight Lots:

Lot 27 | Édouard Manet | Le Grand Canal à Venise, Oil on canvas
Created in fall 1874
57.2 x 47.6 cm

  • Jean-Baptiste Faure, Paris (acquired from the artist, January 1875)
  • Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Paris (acquired from the above, 10 August 1906)
  • Mr. and Mrs. William H. and Ethel Crocker, Hillsborough, California (acquired from the above, 10 August 1906, then by descent until at least 1953)
  • Provident Security Co., San Francisco (by 1966, until at least 1977)
  • Private collection (by 1990)
  • Marc de Montebello, New York (acquired from the above, July 1993)
  • Private collection (1993)
  • Acquired by the late owner, 15 February 2000

Estimate: US$45,000 - 65,000,000

Lot 30 | Jasper Johns | Small False Star, Encaustic, acrylic and paper collage on fiberboard
Created in 1960
55.6 x 46.4 cm

  • Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
  • Mr. and Mrs. Charles M. Clark, Seattle (acquired from the above, 1960)
  • Joseph H. Hazen and Lita Annenberg Hazen, New York (acquired from the above, November 1961)
  • Anon. sale, Christie's, New York, 7 November 1989, lot 76
  • Stephen and Nan Swid, New York (acquired at the above sale)
  • Acquired from the above by the late owner, 2000

Estimate: US$45,000,000 - 65,000,000

Lot 46 | J. M. W. Turner | Depositing of John Bellini’s Three Pictures In La Chiesa Redentore, Venice, Oil on canvas
73.7 x 115.6 cm

  • Charles Birch, Westfield House, Edgbaston and Metchley Abbey, Harbourne near Birmingham
  • Joseph Gillott, Birmingham (acquired from the above, December 1847)
  • Thomas Rought, London (acquired from the above, January 1849)
  • Lloyd Brothers and Co., London; sale, Foster, London, 13 June 1855, lot 60 (unsold)
  • Thomas Agnew & Sons, London (acquired from the above, 1857)
  • Richard Hemming, Bentley Manor, Bromsgrove (acquired from the above)
  • Mrs. Maude Cheape (née Hemming), Bentley Manor, Bromsgrove (by descent from the above)
  • Thomas Agnew & Sons, London (acquired from the above, 1892)
  • Sir John Pender, Middleton Hall, County Linlithgow, Foots Cray Place, Sidcup, Kent and Arlington House, London (acquired from the above); sale, Christie's, London, 29-31 May 1897, lot 84
  • J.P. Morgan, New York (acquired at the above sale, through Agnew, then by descent)
  • Myron Charles Taylor, U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, New York (acquired from the above, circa 1947)
  • Wildenstein & Co. and Thomas Agnew & Sons, London (acquired from the above, 1961)
  • Colin Tennant, 3rd Baron Glenconner (acquired from the above, 1961)
  • Private collection (acquired from the above, 1969)
  • Marlborough International Fine Art Establishment
  • Acquired from the above by the late owner, 16 June 1999

Estimate: US$28,000,000 - 35,000,000

Lot 20 | René Magritte | La voix du sang, Oil on canvas
Created in 1948
79.1 x 58.6 cm

  • Alexander Iolas Gallery, New York (acquired from the artist, 8 August 1949)
  • Adelaide de Menil, Houston (acquired from the above, 1 January 1955); sale, Christie's, New York, 11 November 1997, lot 167
  • Acquired at the above sale by the late owner

Estimate: US$12,000,000 - 18,000,000

Lot 9 | Georgia O'keeffe | White Rose with Larkspur No.1, Oil on canvas
Created in 1927
91.4 x 76.2 cm

  • Dr. Constance Friess, New York (gift from the artist, 1946)
  • Private collection (by descent from the above, 1975)
  • Menconi & Schoelkopf Fine Art, LLC, New York (acquired from the above, 2006)
  • Private collection, Las Vegas (2006)
  • Acquired from the above by the late owner, 2013

Estimate: US$6,000,000 - 8,000,000 

Lot 36 | Jan Brueghel the Younger | The Five Senses: Sight, Set of Five Panels, Oil on panel
Panel: 70.2 x 113.3 cm

  • Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor, Vienna (by 1720, then by descent in the Imperial Collection, deaccessioned by 1796)
  • Josef Karl Ritter von Klinkosch, Vienna (by 1873); Estate sale, Miethke, Vienna, 2 April 1889, lots 27-32 (as Jan Brueghel the Elder and Hendrick van Balen; with incorrect provenance from Archduke Leopold Wilhelm)
  • Isidore Ritter von Klinkosch (acquired at the above sale)
  • Baron Wodianer, Vienna (by 1906-1907)
  • Anon. sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 20 April 1907, lots 3-7 (as Jan Breughel the Elder and Hendrick van Balen)
  • Marino Vagliano (acquired at the above sale, then by descent)
  • Private collection; sale, Christie’s, New York, 3 October 2001, lot 98 (world auction record for the artist at the time of sale)
  • Acquired at the above sale by the late owner

Estimate: US$4,000,000 - 6,000,000

Lot 18 | Agnes Martin | Untitled, Acrylic and graphite on canvas
Created circa 1999 - 2000
152.4 x 152. 4 cm

  • David and Renze Nesbit, New Mexico (acquired from the artist, 2000)
  • Dominique Lévy Gallery, New York
  • Anon. sale, Sotheby's, London, 15 October 2015, lot 7
  • Acquired at the above sale by the late owner

Estimate: US$4,000,000 - 6,000,000

Lot 10 | Pablo Picasso | Tête classique, Charcoal, crayon and tortillon on paper
Created in 1923
63 x 47.8 cm

  • The Zwemmer Gallery, London (acquired from the artist)
  • Rae H. Eckman, New York; Estate sale, Christie’s, New York, 7 November 1979, lot 33
  • Anon. sale, Sotheby’s, London, 27 June 1995, lot 28
  • Acquired at the above sale by the late owner

Estimate: US$3,000,000 - 5,000,000

Auction Details:

Auction House: Christie's New York

  • Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection Part I
  • Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection Part II

Date: 9 - 10 November 2022