"If he made the decision to buy something, nobody outbid him," says Tobias Meyer, advisor to the Newhouse family and former chief auctioneer of Sotheby's. Incredibly driven in his collecting, the late media mogul S.I. Newhouse whose magazine empire included Vogue, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, GQ was willing to go to any length for a painting he truly loved, and was always prepared to pay for the best.
Four years ago, his masterpiece-stocked art collection made waves on the auction scene when Jeff Koons' The Rabbit from his trove sold for US$91 million, making it the most expensive work by a living artist to be sold at auction.
Testimony to his intuitive eye, his collection also included Andy Warhol's Shot Sage Blue Marilyn, which fetched a sensational US$195 million in 2022 – the second-highest auction price achieved by a painting.
Building on the art market's resilience, another tranche from Newhouse's estate will be offered at a dedicated evening sale at Christie's New York this May, with a total estimate of US$144 million for 16 works.
Jeff Koons’ stainless steel sculpture Rabbit (1986) sold at Christie's New York for US$91.07 million
Together with his brother Donald, Si Newhouse inherited from their father the media company Advanced Publications, one of the largest privately held fortunes in America.
While Donald took charge of the newspaper and cable television operations, Newhouse ran the company's high-shine magazine division Condé Nast and painstakingly developed it into the foremost magazine publisher in the world.
As the long-time chairman of the publishing empire, Newhouse was unafraid of pouring money into projects and spending million dollar-plus on editors' salaries, clothing allowance and entertainment expenses – and the same went for his collecting approach.
Lot 16A | Willem de Kooning | Orestes (1947), 61.3 x 91.8 cm | Expected to fetch in the region of US$25 million
Lot 7A | Andy Warhol | Martinson Coffee (1962), 51.1 x 41 cm | Estimate: US$1,500,000 - 2,500,000
As he navigated the art scene over the years, Newhouse developed a broad interest that ranged from Abstract Expressionism and Pop to Impressionism, Cubism and figurative art.
When he was not overseeing the business, he was frequently on the hunt, bidding by phone and always getting what he set eyes on – even when his competitors were American business magnate David Geffen and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, whose impressive art collection sold for a record-breaking US$1.6 billion last season.
Instead of sticking to the idea of keeping his collection together, Newhouse was constantly buying and selling. Once he saw a work that he considered improved on an artist's work that he already owned, he would swap it out with the one that was not quite as excellent, so only the best pieces stayed.
Andy Warhol’s US$195 million Shot Sage Blue Marilyn was previously owned by S.I. Newhouse
Lot 14A | Cy Twombly | Untitled [Bolsena] (1969), 200 x 237.2 cm | Estimate: US$18,000,000 - 25,000,000
Lot 11A | Jasper Johns | Decoy (1971), 182.9 x 126.7 cm | Estimate: US$12,000,000 - 18,000,000
After his death in 2017, his vast holdings have been released to the market pile by pile. The upcoming sale marked the third chapter of his art collection at Christie's, which began with sale of Francis Bacon's 1969 Study of Henrietta Moraes Laughing in 2018, when it fetched US$21.7 million over its US$14 million low estimate.
The following year, the abovementioned record-setting Koons was sold alongside 11 other works during 20th Century Week in New York. Representing his renowned taste and instinct for quality, the sale that was expected to fetch US$130 million ended up achieving US$216.3 million.
Francis Bacon | Study of Henrietta Moraes Laughing | Sold: US$21.7 million, Christie's New York, 2018
11 artworks from S.I. Newhouse's collection sold for US$216.3 million in 2019
Auction House: Christie's New York
Sale: Masterpieces from the S.I. Newhouse Collection
Date: 11 May 2023
Number of Lots: 16