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

A few months ago, Christie's set the art world ablaze when it announced it had won the consignment to sell Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen's US$1-billion art collection. The sale of more than 150 artworks spanning 500 years is poised to be 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. 

A delicate landscape by Gustav Klimt, a monumental portrait by Lucian Freud, Claude Monet's ethereal painting from the renowned Waterloo Bridge series, and a rare tondo by Old Master Sandro Botticelli, are among the works going up for auction.

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

Lot 17 | Gustav Klimt | Birch Forest, Oil on canvas
Created in 1903
110.1 x 109.8 cm

  • Adele and Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, Vienna (acquired from the artist)
  • Seized by the Viennese Magistrate, May 1938 (following the Nazi Anschluss of March 1938)
  • With Dr. Erich Führer, Vienna (the state-appointed administrator for Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer)
  • Städtische Sammlung, Vienna (acquired from the above, November 1942)
  • Österreichische Galerie, Vienna (transferred from the above, 1948)
  • Restituted to the heirs of Adele and Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer by the Republic of Austria, March 2006; sale, Christie's, New York, 8 November 2006, lot 51 (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 Gustav Klimt rose to prominence with his avant-garde portraits and allegorical compositions, he began painting landscapes in the 1890s and the genre eventually comprised almost half of the artist’s oeuvre.

Like the rest of the wealthy and intellectual circles of Vienna, Klimt would spend his summers outside of the city for what was known as Sommerfrische. During these summer sojourns, the artist resided in Litzlberg, a scenic and rural area to the east of Salzburg.

In the picturesque village of Litlzberg, Klimt was allowed to paint within the nature, rather than in the confines of his city studio, which provided him with solace and solitude, something he craved at times after the rigors of his life as an established leader of the Viennese avant-garde.

Not having to meet the demands of his commissions, he painted these landscape scenes purely for himself, reflecting a sense of wonder and fascination with the world around him while honing his visual language.

Gustav Klimt

Details of the present lot 

Klimt once described how he chose his landscape compositions. “With a viewfinder,” he explained, “that is a hole cut into a piece of cardboard, I looked for motifs for landscapes I wanted to paint and found many or—if you prefer—few”. 

In Birch Forest, with its intense focus on a precisely demarcated scene, any hint of sky, shadow or glimmer of light are deliberately excluded so to feature only the kaleidoscopic texture and color of this tranquil nook of nature. 

This pictorial effect is enhanced by the square format of the canvas, which not only eliminates the horizontality but also imparts a sense of symmetrical harmony to the expansive realm of nature. Together with the dot-like brushstrokes that demonstrate his meticulous attention to detail, the viewers are as if transported to experience the sensation of standing amid the landscape. 

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II | Sold: US$87.9 million, auction record for the artist

Birch Forest was included in a number of seminal exhibitions, including the 1903 Vienna Secession, the artist’s first-ever one-man show, and the 1908 Vienna Kunstschau. It was acquired from Klimt by the now legendary collectors, Adele and Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer. Their collection was seized by the Nazi authorities in the days following the Austrian Anschluss in 1938.

After it was restituted to the heirs of the Bloch-Bauers, it was sold to Paul Allen for US$40 million at Christie's New York in 2006, which set the then auction record for the artist, though the record had swiftly been smashed by Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II, when it fetched US$87.9 million on the same day. 

Lot 34 | Lucian Freud | Large Interior, W11 (after Watteau), Oil on canvas
Created in 1981 - 1983
185.4 x 198.1 cm

  • James Kirkman, London (acquired from the artist, 1983); sale; Sotheby's, New York, 14 May 1998, lot 33 (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$75,000,000


When abstract art was en vogue in post-war London, there were a few artists who opted to go the other way round and devoted themselves solely to the figurative – chief among them was Lucian Freud.

Initially more known as the grandson of neurologist Sigmund Freud, Lucian Freud earned a reputation for himself with his evocative portrait paintings which are distinguished by thick paint application and a focus on both the physical and psychological flaws of his subjects.

In order to capture the human body in all its frailty, Freud would paint exclusively from life, putting his subjects – only those who were within his inner circle – under intense direct observation.

In Large Interior, W11 (after Watteau), the artist chose to work with his extended family, who are, from left to right: Celia Paul, his then-lover; Bella, his own daughter; Kai, the son of his former partner, Suzy Boyt; and Suzy Boyt herself. Lying on the floor in front of them is Star, the little sister of the then-girlfriend of Ali Boyt, Suzy and Lucian’s son. 

Lucian Freud 

Jean Antoine Watteau, Pierrot content

Nortorious for his scandalous behavior, Freud married several times, and fathered as many as fourteen children between his wives and upwards of twelve mistresses. Yet, his fragmentary cast here was not designed to reconcile his desparate relationships, but rather a reflection of his lifelong dedication to painting his intimate ones, and a snapshot of his tangled personal life. “Everything is autobiographical,” he later remarked, and – when asked about the link between the present work’s sitters – would simply state that “I’m the connection.” 

Spanning almost two meters in both height and width, the work was Freud’s largest painting to date at the time, and his first canvas to feature more than two sitters. It was also his first of only a few pieces to artistically paraphrase a painting from art history: namely Jean Antoine Watteau’s Pierrot content.

An avid admirer of the Old Masters, Freud originally intended to make a copy of Watteau's painting. After making a preliminary study in 1980, the artist thought, "why don't I do one of my own?" When he happened to be moving into a spacious studio in Holland Park – the W11 postcode of the present painting's title, he found the perfect setting for a challenge of this scale and began to set his stage.

Here, he transposes Watteau’s exquisite parkland party to the interior of his studio, replacing the French master’s cast with a line-up of some of his favourite muses, sitting lovers and offspring side by side. 

Currently, the artist's auction record is at US$56 million, set by Benefits Supervisor Resting (1994) in 2015. If the present lot meets its unpublished estimate of US$75 million, it would be the most expensive work by the artist to sell at auction. 

Benefits Supervisor Resting (1994) | Sold: US$56 million

Lot 41 | Claude Monet | Waterloo Bridge, soleil voilé, Oil on canvas
Cretaed in 1899 - 1903
65.4 x 100 cm

  • Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Paris (acquired from the artist, June 1904)
  • Paul Cassirer, Berlin (acquired from the above, 7 November 1904)
  • Anton Mayer, Berlin and Weimar (acquired from the above, 7 November 1904, until at least 1916). Paul and Gabrielle Oppenheim-Errera, Brussels and Princeton (1916); Estate sale, Christie’s, New York, 11 November 1997, lot 107
  • Acquired at the above sale by the late owner

Estimate on request, in excess of US$60,000,000

Portraying the Thames in the afternoon, Waterloo Bridge, soleil voilé is from Monet’s celebrated series known as the Vues du Londres (Views of London).

The landmark series started in 1899, when Monet was captivated by the unique fog-cloaked vistas of London. He then visited the city twice in 1900 and 1901 to produce almost a hundred of canvases focusing on the play of light across the Thames through three principal subjects – Charing Cross Bridge, the Houses of Parliament, and Waterloo Bridge.

Comprising 41 views, each subtly different from the next, 26 of the Waterloo Bridge paintings are now held in renowned museum collections across the world – including Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Art Institute of Chicago – leaving only 15 in private hands.

This May at Christie's London, Waterloo Bridge, effet de brouillard from the same series of similar size garnered £30.05 million (US$36.8 million). While last May, Le Parlement, soleil couchant set a record for the Views of London series at US$75.9 million at Christie's New York.

Claude Monet was particularly fond of the fog-cloaked vistas of London

Waterloo Bridge, effet de brume | sold for £30 million in June 2022 at Christie's London

Le Parlement, soleil couchant | sold for US$75.9 million in May 2022 at Christie's New York

London’s weather condition is notoriously capricious – the slightest breath of wind over the river could modify the scene in a matter of seconds, causing a shift in the density of the mist or fog. As a result, Monet had to work on multiple canvases at a time, moving from painting to painting to record the landscape that transformed before his eyes.

In a letter to his second wife Alice, he revealed how challenging the painting process was: ‘Today was a day of terrible struggle, and it will be the same until the day I leave. I needed more canvases, as the only way of achieving something is to start new ones for [the different] kinds of weather.’

In Waterloo Bridge, soleil voilé Monet captures an afternoon view, where the cityscape is bathed in the soft autumnal light. As the westerly moving sun penetrated the dense atmosphere, the river and the wide arches of the bridge are gently lit, sparkling a hazy coral amidst the delicately-hued soft lilacs and powdery blues – altogether the Thames becomes poetic and ethereal.

Lot 25 | Sandro Botticelli | Madonna of the Magnificat, Tempera, oil and gold on panel, tondo
Diameter: 62.9 cm

  • Rev. J.M. Rhodes, Florence (acquired in Florence in the late 19th century)
  • Ayerst Hooker Buttery, London
  • Julius Böhler, Munich (1926)
  • Thomas Agnew & Sons, London (acquired from the above, 16 November 1951)
  • Mount Trust Collection (Captain and Mrs. Vivian F. Bulkeley-Johnson) (acquired from the above, 31 December 1951); sale, Christie's, London, 1 December 1978, lot 113 (as Botticelli and Workshop)
  • The Matthiesen Gallery, London; P. & D. Colnaghi & Co., London and Rosenberg & Stiebel, New York (by 1978)
  • Barbara Piasecka Johnson Collection (acquired from the above, 1980)
  • Acquired from the above through Matthiesen Fine Art by the late owner, 1999

Estimate on request, in excess of US$40,000,000

The composition’s tondo format was a particular specialty of Sandro Botticelli, the most accomplished and innovative painter of these circular panels. A painting as such would be hung high, above eye level, and to resemble a convex mirror, with the composition inflating slightly at the centre and receding at its edges.

The most notable of Botticelli's tondi is arguably the one held in Florence's Galleria degli Uffizi, known today as the Madonna of the Magnificat, and the present lot is a variant of it, created in the late 1480s when his workshop was thriving. 

Madonna del Magnificatcirca 1483 | Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Roundel | Sold: US$92 million, now the second most valuable Old Master artwork and auction record for the artist

Man of Sorrows | Sold: US$45.5 million 

This version, most likely commissioned by a wealthy patron for private devotion within a domestic setting, is nearly half the size of the Uffizi panel, measuring 62.9 cm in diameter. In addition to adjusting the compostitions to a more intimate scale, Botticelli omitted the two outermost angels holding aloft the crown and provided wings to the angels which do not appear in the Uffizi panel.

There had been a small damage in the face of the Christ Child. Though sensitively restored, it has resulted in a loss of the shadow which would have provided a contour to his jaw line and modelling in his upturned face.

Of great historical importance, the majority of Sandro Botticelli's works have entered into museum collections, leaving only a few in private hands. When these rare artworks resurfaced on the open market, they could often command whopping prices. 

In 2020, Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Roundel sold for a staggering US$92 million at Sotheby's to become the second most expensive Old Master artwork to sell at auction and also a record-high for the artist. This past January, Man of Sorrows fetched US$45.5 million at Sotheby's.

Other Highlight Lots:

Lot 52 | Francis Bacon | Three Studies for Self-Portrait, Oil on canvas
Created in 1979
35.6 x 30.5 cm

  • Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., London
  • Private collection, Europe (acquired from the above, 1979, then by descent)
  • Anon. sale, Christie's, London, 8 December 1999, lot 72
  • Acquired at the above sale by the late owner

Estimate: US$25,000,000 - 35,000,000

Lot 6 | Paul Signac | Concarneau, calme du matin (Opus no. 219, larghetto)Oil on canvas
Created in 1891
65.7 x 81.3 cm

  • Henri-Nicolas Lejeune, France (acquired from the artist, 1891)
  • Henri Lejeune, Saint-Cloud (by descent from the above); sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet & Co., London, 27 June 1977, lot 13
  • Bluestone Corporation, New York
  • Private collection (until 1993)
  • Private collection; sale, Christie’s, New York, 18 November 1998, lot 28 (world auction record for the artist at the time of sale)
  • Acquired at the above sale by the late owner

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

Lot 29 | Jasper Johns | Map, Encaustic on printed paper mounted on Masonite
Created in 1960
21.6 x 27.9 cm

  • Robert Rauschenberg, New York (gift from the artist, 1960)
  • Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, New York (acquired from the above, 1999)
  • Acquired from the above by the late owner, 2013

Estimate: US$5,000,000 - 7,000,000

Lot 61 | Wayne Thiebaud | Café Cart, Oil on canvas
Created in 2012
76.2 x 101.6 cm

  • Acquavella Galleries, Inc., New York
  • Acquired from the above by the late owner, 2012

Estimate: US$3,000,000 - 5,000,000

Lot 13 | Pierre Bonnard | Deux corbeilles de fruits, Oil on canvas
Created circa 1935
60.4 x 81.2 cm

  • Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., Paris (acquired from the artist, 1935)
  • Paul Ebstein, Paris (gift from the above, 1935)
  • Léon Delaroche, Paris (circa 1935)
  • Private collection, Paris (by descent from the above, 1998)
  • Private collection, Europe; sale, Christie's, New York, 8 November 2006, lot 73 (world auction record for the artist at the time of sale)
  • Acquired at the above sale by the late owner

Estimate: US$3,000,000 - 5,000,000

Lot 26 | Henri-Edmond Cross | Rio San Trovaso, Venice, Oil on canvas
Created during September 1903 - January 1904
73 x 92 cm

  • Théo van Rysselberghe, Brussels (acquired from the artist, 1904)
  • Victor Freiherr von Mutzenbecher, Berlin (1912)
  • Marie Lange, Germany
  • Private collection, Germany (by descent from the above); sale, Christie's, London, 3 December 1990, lot 18
  • Private collection, Belgium; sale, Sotheby's, London, 21 June 2004, lot 38
  • Private collection, United States (acquired at the above sale); sale, Christie's, New York, 6 May 2009, lot 21
  • Acquired at the above sale by the late owner

Estimate: US$2,000,000 - 3,000,000

Lot 53 | Louise Bourgeois | Black Flames, Bronze, paint and stainless steel
Executed in 1947 - 1949 and cast in 1989
176.5 x 30.5 x 30.5 cm

  • The artist
  • Cheim & Read, New York
  • Acquired from the above by the late owner, 1999

Estimate: US$1,500,000 - 2,500,000

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