Highlights from publishing tycoon S.I. Newhouse's US$144m art collection

Following last season's Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's landmark US$1.6 billion sale, Christie's is gearing up for another blockbuster single-owner auction this May, selling 16 pieces from the estate of media tycoon Samuel Irving Newhouse Jr..

The long-time chairman of a publishing empire that included Vogue, The New Yorker and Vanity Fair, S.I. Newhouse not only exerted enormous influence over the American cultural life, but was also one of the most important art collectors of the 20th century and well into the 21st.

Valued at US$144 million, the sale will be led by Willem de Kooning's 1947 black and white abstract painting Orestes, Francis Bacon's 1969 Self-Portrait in an intimate and almost square format, and Pablo Picasso's 1937 portrait of model and war photographer Lee Miller L’Arlésienne. 

*More on S.I. Newhouse's collecting journey: Magazine magnate S.I. Newhouse's US$144m art collection to be offered in New York in May

S.I. Newhouse owned Condé Nast, the publisher of magazines such as The New Yorker, Vogue, Vanity Fair and Architectural Digest

Jeff Koons' The Rabbit from the Newhouse collection sold for US$91 million in 2019

S.I. Newhouse’s residence, New York, 1969


Lot 16A | Willem de Kooning | Orestes, Oil, enamel and paper collage on paper mounted on board
Executed in 1947
61.3 x 91.8 cm
Provenance (Edited by The Value):

  • Egan Gallery, New York
  • Mr. and Mrs. John Stephan, New York, 1949
  • Ruth Stephan Franklin, New York (by descent from the above)
  • Andrew Crispo Gallery, Inc., New York
  • Private collection, Europe
  • Washburn Gallery, New York
  • Allan Stone Gallery, New York
  • Thomas W. Wiesel, San Francisco
  • Anon. sale; Sotheby's, New York, 12 November 2002, lot 11 (Sold: US$13.2 million)
  • Acquired at the above sale by the late owner

Estimate on request (Expected to fetch in the region of US$25 million)

Just as with his discerning eye for recruiting talents for his magazine empire – such as Anna Wintour as editor-in-Chief of Vogue – Newhouse had a knack for spotting key works that define their artists. One such piece is Willem de Kooning’s Orestes.

The work, which he acquired after selling another black-and-white de Kooning to American business mogul David Geffen, is part of an important group of early paintings by the artist known as the black and white series, which marks a pivotal point in his artistic career.

Painted in 1947 and exhibited in de Kooning's first solo exhibition, it was with this particular work that the artist liberated himself from the pure figuration that he had studied in Rotterdam and began cultivating his characteristic blend of lettering, gestural figures and abstract motifs. 

Willem de Kooning

Arshile Gorky | Untitled (The Horns of the Landscape) | 1944, 48.3 x 61 cm | To be sold at the same sale with an estimate between US$500,000 and 700,000

After settling in New York City in 1927, de Kooning met other modernist artists active in Manhattan and the art colony in Woodstock. Among them were the Armenian Arshile Gorky, the Russian John Graham and the American Stauart Davis – whom de Kooning collectively called the "Three Musketeers".

While they loomed large in the artist's early development, Gorky who served as his artistic brother was especially influential in his art. Deeply inspired by the way Gorky merged figurative and abstract techniques, de Kooning charted a new path in his artistic practice, formulating a new kind of abstraction that eschewed strict labels.

During these formative years, he particularly favored a monochromatic palette, as it allowed him to play with the relationship between surface and depth to its greatest potential.

Abandoning traditional notions of shading, volume, and modelling of space, here, in Orestes, de Kooning composed a painting almost entirely with shapes that resemble letters; yet their forms are amorphous enough to avoid definitive comprehension. This feeling of disorientation, a result of bold merging of abstraction and figuration, had later became a constant in his renowned action paintings.

Lot 5A | Francis Bacon | Self-Portrait, Oil on canvas
Painted in 1969
35.6 x 30.5 cm
Provenance (Edited by The Value):

  • Valerie Beston, London (gift from the artist, circa 1969)
  • Christie's, London, 8 February 2006, lot 5 (Sold: £4.6 million; US$8.9 million)
  • Acquired at the above sale by the late owner

Estimate: US$22,000,000 - 28,000,000

In addition to his love of Abstract Expressionism, Newhouse had a fondness for contemporary British figurative painting. As Lucian Freud rose to prominence on the international art scene during the post-war years, Newhouse, who was fascinated by the artist's naked self-portrait, once travelled all the way from America to London to visit him.

Interestingly, it was in Freud's studio that he saw the famous Bacon painting of two men wrestling in the grass that hung above Freud’s bed, and developed an interest in Bacon's art. And from there, he purchased Bacon’s 1969 Study of Henrietta Moraes Laughing – which sold for US$21.7 million in 2018 – and this 1969 self-portrait.

When working with portraits, Bacon had his own way: he preferred to study his friends through photographic images, painting them almost exclusively from photographs.

In this sense, his self-portraits stand apart. In order to paint them, Bacon would study his own face in the mirror, intimately engaged with its physical presence, even applying great swoops of foundation on his face to rehearse the brushstrokes that he envisaged making on canvas, so as to become familiarise with the contours of his own face. 

Francis Bacon | Study of Henrietta Moraes Laughing | 35.6 x 30.5 cm | Sold: US$21,687,500, Christie's New York, 2018

Francis Bacon and Valerie Beston at the opening of Bacon’s Grand Palais exhibition, Paris, 1971

Bacon as a figurative painter once explained himself that he wanted images which “would rise from a river of flesh”. While he has long been famous for his portraiture of violently distorted human flesh, the present work is a remarkably tender self-image, exuding a warmth even.

Such gentleness perhaps reflects Bacon’s feeling towards its intended recipient: it’s a gift to his assistant Valerie Beston, who played an essential role in the artist’s personal and professional lives since 1958.

Two years after the work was completed, it was featured in his career-defining retrospective at the Grand Palais, Paris, following by a number of major international exhibitions across the decades since, such as at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York in 1975.

Lot 3A | Pablo Picasso | L'Arlésienne (Lee Miller), Oil and Ripolin on canvas
Painted in Mougins on 11 September 1937
72.7 x 59.8 cm

  • Estate of the artist (until at least the early 1990s)
  • Private collection (by descent from the above)
  • PaceWildenstein, New York (acquired from the above, 15 September 1998)
  • Acquired from the above by the late owner, 14 January 1999

Estimate: US$20,000,000 - 30,000,000

One of the fashion industry's most sought-after faces in the early 20th century, Lee Miller was first discovered by publishing legend Condé Nast on the street in Manhattan in 1927, who urged her to model for his magazine Vogue. 

With her own ambitions to become a photographer, Miller left for France in 1929 and was intoxicated by the world of art and bohemianism that she found there. There she worked and studied in Man Ray's studio for a year, before returning to New York to set up a studio of her own. 

The lure of Paris did not wane however, and finally in 1937 she arrived once more in the city. That summer, Miller journeyed south with a Surrealist circle to the small hilltop village of Mougins, where Pablo Picasso and his then-lover Dora Maar were staying.

Far removed from the ever worsening political situation in Europe, the group spent a carefree and creatively fertile summer together. Captivated by Miller's famed classical beauty, Picasso painted seven seated portraits of Miller in Arlésienne costume with a jubilant palette. 

Lee Miller, Self-portrait, 1932

Picasso and Miller reunited after Liberation of Paris

While the circle remained close following the buoyant summer of 1937, they could not escape the impending realities of war for much longer. When the conflict broke out, Picasso holed up in his studio, while Miller moved to London and later became a war correspondent and photographer for Condé Nast. 

After Liberation of Paris in 1944, she made her way to Picasso’s studio. As described by her son Antony Penrose, Picasso nearly fell over backwards when he saw her, and he hugged her and kissed her, then finally looked at her and said, “It’s incredible. The first allied soldier I should see is a woman. She is you.’

Encapsulating the treasured friendship between the two great artists, L'Arlésienne (Lee Miller) had been kept by Picasso for his personal collection until his death in 1998. The next year, the painting was purchased by Newhouse at PaceWildenstein in New York, and remained out of public sight since then.

Other Highlight Lots:

Lot 8A | Roy Lichtenstein | Rouen Cathedral, Set IV, Triptych—oil and Magna on canvas
Painted in 1969
Each: 160 x 106.7 cm

  • Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
  • Holly and Horace H. Solomon, New York (1969)
  • The Mayor Gallery, London and Anders Malmberg, Malmö (circa 1985)
  • Douglas S. Cramer, Los Angeles
  • Gagosian Gallery, New York (2000)
  • Acquired from the above by the late owner, 2000

Estimate: US$18,000,000 - 25,000,000

Lot 10A | Pablo Picasso | Cafetière, tasse et pipe, Oil on canvas
Painted in Paris in winter 1911
46 x 27 cm

  • Galerie Kahnweiler, Paris (acquired from the artist)
  • Alphonse Kann, Saint-Germain-en-Laye (acquired from the above, 1912)
  • Confiscated from the above by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR no. UNB 328, October 1940); Transferred to the German Embassy, Paris, and then to the Jeu de Paume, Paris
  • One of seven artworks included in Exchange #3 between the Einstatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg and Gustav Rochlitz, Paris, for paintings by Raffaellino del Garbo and Frans Wouters (17 March 1941)
  • Sold by Gustav Rochlitz to Isidor (Ignacy) Rosner, Paris
  • (probably) Pablo Picasso, Paris
  • Dora Maar, Paris (probably gift from the above, by circa 1945); withdrawn from her Estate sale, Piasa, Paris, 7 December 1998
  • Settlement reached between the Estate of Dora Maar and the heirs of Alphonse Kann (1999)
  • Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York and de Pury and Luxembourg Art, Geneva (on consignment from the above)
  • Acquired from the above by the late owner, 15 March 2000

Estimate: US$8,000,000 - 12,000,000

Lot 12A | Jasper Johns | Cicada, Oil on canvas
Painted in 1979
76.2 x 57.2 cm

  • Mark Lancaster, New York (acquired from the artist, 1979)
  • PaceWildenstein, New York
  • Acquired from the above by the late owner, 1999

Estimate: US$7,000,000 - 10,000,000

Lot 1A | Lee Bontecou | Untitled, Welded steel, canvas, fabric, velvet and wire
Executed in 1959-1960
97.8 x 77.8 x 27 cm

  • Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
  • Vera G. List, Greenwich (1960)
  • Sotheby's, New York, 12 November 2003, lot 1
  • Gagosian Gallery, New York
  • Acquired from the above by the late owner, 2003

Estimate: US$3,000,000 - 5,000,000

Lot 6A | Lucian Freud | After Chardin (Large), Oil on canvas with attached wooden panels
Painted in 1999
52.4 x 61.3 cm

  • Acquavella Contemporary Art, Inc., New York
  • Acquired from the above by the late owner, 2000

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

Lot 2A | George Condo | Portrait Composition in Blue and Grey, Oil on canvas
Painted in 2012
167.6 x 147.6 cm

  • Skarstedt Gallery, New York
  • Acquired from the above by the late owner, 2012

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

Auction Details:

Auction House: Christie's New York
Sale: Masterpieces from the S.I. Newhouse Collection
Date and Time: 11 May 2023 | 6:30pm (New York Local Time)
Number of Lots: 16