Macklowe art collection from high-profile divorce fetches record-breaking US$676 million

After months of anticipation, a blue-chip collection of divorced American real estate tycoons, Harry and Linda Macklowe, was hotly contested amongst bidders on 15 November.

All 35 lots offered received either an auction house or third-party guarantee. They were sold at US$676.1 million dollars at Sotheby’s New York The Macklowe Collection Evening Sale and became the most expensive single collector auction in history. 

The auction was the first of two sales of 65 total works from the Macklowe Collection  part of a court order issued during the former couple’s divorce proceedings. A second sale of the remaining works will take place in May 2022.

Mark Rothko’s No. 7 painting performed the most brilliantly. It was hammered at US$77.5 million – US$7.5 million dollars more than its low estimate. In the end, it was sold for US$82.4 million dollars with buyer's premium. Alongside Rothko’s painting, Giacometti’s Le Nez and Pollock’s Number 17, 1965 were sold for more than US$60 million dollars.

A few top lots were sold at high prices due to the active participation of Asian bidders.

Harry and Linda 

Harry pictured with his second wife, Patricia, on his Manhattan property

Harry is an American real estate tycoon with a net worth of US$2 billion dollars. 

He bought General Motors Building for a record US$1.4 billion dollars in 2003. When Harry sold the skyscraper in 2008, its value doubled to US$2.9 billion dollars. It became the most expensive office building in the United States.

In 2016, his former wife, Linda, filed a petition to end their marriage after more than 50 years. Three years later, in 2019, Harry married Patricia Lazar-Landeau. He even displayed a large photo of the two on his Manhattan property and demonstrated it to Linda, which became a hot entertainment gossip news in New York.

The Collection of Harry and Linda were put up for auction, because the two parties failed to agree on the valuation of most of the art collection in the divorce case.

Lot 7 | Mark Rothko | No. 7, Oil on canvas            

Created in 1951
240.7 x 138.7 cm

  • Betty Parsons Gallery, New York
  • Mr. and Mrs. Patrick B. McGinnis, Boston (acquired from the above circa 1960)
  • Janie C. Lee Gallery, Houston
  • Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, Houston (acquired from the above in 1977)
  • Pace Gallery, New York
  • Acquired by the present owner from the above in December 1987

Estimate: US$70,000,000 – 90,000,000

Hammer Price: US$77,500,000

Sold: US$82,468,500

American Abstract Expressionist painter, Rothko’s most expensive piece was Orange, Red, and Yellow. In 2012, it was sold for US$86.8 million dollars at Christie's New York, which set the current auction record for the artist.

Auctioneer Oliver Barker started the bidding at US$62 million dollars. There were two main telephone bidders through Sotheby's Chairman of Asia, Patti Wong; and a representative of Sotheby's Hong Kong Business Development Department, Yonnie Fu.

The two competed for around 10 bids, and the auctioneer dropped the hammer at US$77.5 million dollars. The winning bid was by Wong, for her client with paddle number 9. In the end, the painting was sold for US$82.4 million dollars – the second most expensive Rothko work in auction history.

Although the international auction house did not disclose any buyer information, Wong was responsible for the telephone bidding. This means that the bidder was most likely an Asian collector.

Mark Rothko's No. 7 painting was competed between Yonnie Fu (left) and Patti Wong (right)

Patti Wong with the winning bid 

Created in 1951, it features bold blocks of green, lavender and burnt orange.

No. 7 dates to the critical moment in the early 1950s during which Rothko developed his signature style of abstraction and mature mode of artistic expression. Composed of three luminous and distinct bands of colour, the vibrant colouration and atmospheric depth of No. 7 reflect the mastery of this transformative period. 

Measuring more than two metres in height, the towering scale of No. 7 engulfs the viewer in proportions that mirror the human body, encouraging deep contemplation and the profound optical experience that Rothko intended to provoke. It was exhibited at The Betty Parsons Gallery in New York in 1951 and at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. in 1998.

The artwork was also previously owned by American collector, Sarah Campbell Blaffer (1885-1975). Her collection was one of the most important collections of Modern Art in the United States during the 20th century, with highlights including Italian Renaissance paintings and Francisco de Goya.

Lot 14 | Alberto Giacometti | Le Nez, Bronze, steel and iron

Created in 1965
81.3 x 72.4 x 38 cm

  • Estate of the artist
  • Private Collection
  • Private Collection
  • Galerie Kornfeld, Bern, 26 June 1992, lot 30
  • Private Collection (acquired at the above sale)
  • Galerie Beyeler, Basel
  • Gagosian Gallery, New York
  • Acquired by the present owner from the above on 28 November 1994

Estimate: US$70,000,000 – 90,000,000

Hammer Price: US$68,000,000

Sold: US$78,396,000

The sale's second most expensive lot was Giacometti's Le Nez (The Nose) sculpture. 

This sculpture was hammered at US$68 million dollars – below its low estimate. After six bids, it was sold at US$78.3 million dollars with buyer's premium. Yonnie Fu won the bid for her client with paddle number 95. Sotheby's later confirmed that the buyer is from Asia. 

Yonnie Fu with the winning bid for Giacometti's Le Nez sculpture

Le Nez is another example of the Swiss-Italian sculptor questioning human conditions and existentialism. This sculpture is suspended within a cage, evoking a sense of fragility, aggression and tension.

Although this version was cast in 1965, the sculpture was originally conceived in 1947. 

1947 marked a year of crucial importance for Giacometti, and many of his most celebrated creations such as L’Homme qui marche, L’Homme au doigt and Le Nez date from that period. After years of self-imposed exile in his native Switzerland, in 1945 the artist had returned to his spiritual home, Paris. He had spent the preceding years working on an ever-smaller scale as he attempted to render the perspective of distance in sculptural form. It was a period of intense frustration and destruction as well as creation; when he arrived in Paris he carried an entire three years’ worth of work in six match boxes.

The sculptor's artwork, L'Homme au doigt (Pointing Man, 1947), was auctioned for US$141.3 million dollars at Christie's New York in 2015. It was the highest price for any sculpture at auction.

Lot 11 | Jackson Pollock | Number 17, Enamel on canvas

Created in 1951
148.6 x 148.6 cm

  • Sidney Janis Gallery, New York
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (acquired in 1952)
  • Estate of the artist (by exchange in 1957)
  • Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, New York
  • S. I. Newhouse, Jr., New York
  • Gagosian Gallery, New York
  • Private Collection, New York (acquired from the above)
  • Richard Gray Gallery, New York
  • Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1999

Estimate: US$25,000,000 – 35,000,000

Hammer Price: US$53,000,000

Sold: US$61,161,000

The sale's third most expensive lot started bidding at US$21 million dollars.

After more than 40 bids, the hammer was eventually dropped at US$53 million dollars – more than double its low estimate. In the end, the painting was sold at US$61.1 million dollars with buyer's premium. The winning bid was by Head of Contemporary Art Department New York, Gregoire Billault, for his client with paddle number 353.

The previous auction record for the American artist was No. 19 (1948). In 2013, it was sold for US$58.3 million dollars at Christie’s New York.

Pollock's No. 19 painting was the American artist's previous auction record

Jackson Pollock 

Pollock is a representative figure of the Abstract Expressionist Art movement. He is known for his drip painting, which means abandoning brush strokes on the easel, spreading the canvas on the floor, and splashing paint on it with a stick or paintbrush. 

Number 17, 1951 possesses a strong compositional presence, acting as the ultimate contrast for Pollock’s impassioned gestures. The resulting visual experience is fascinating, with the viewer's eye encouraged to travel freely through the forest of pigment created by Pollock’s looping lines, which seem to burst forth from and soak into the canvas surface. 

In the spring of 1951, following a solo exhibition where the artist first unveiled his iconic drip paintings, Jackson Pollock embarked upon a stylistically coherent group of 33 canvases called the Black Pourings. As the name suggests, and in addition to using black as the main pigment, he evolved from the drip to pour technique. These paintings also marked a period of challenging himself during his career, as he was unwilling to repeat himself in his works.

Other highlight lots:

Lot 5 | Cy Twombly | Untitled, Acrylic and crayon on wood panel, in six parts

Created in 2007
252.1 by 552.5 cm

  • Gagosian Gallery, New York
  • Acquired by the present owner from the above in 2007

Estimate: US$40,000,000 – 60,000,000

Hammer Price: US$51,000,000

Sold: US$58,863,000

Lot 19 | Andy Warhol | Nine Marilyns, Acrylic, silkscreen ink and graphite on canvas

Created in 1962
207 x 85.7 cm

  • The artist
  • Peter Brant, New York (acquired from the above)
  • Sotheby's Parke Bernet, New York, 26 October 1972, lot 44 (consigned by the above)
  • Peter Palumbo, London (acquired from the above sale)
  • Keith Barish, New York
  • Gagosian Gallery, New York
  • Richard Gray Gallery, New York
  • Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1996

Estimate: US$40,000,000 – 60,000,000

Hammer Price: US$42,000,000

Sold: US$48,522,000

Lot 12 | Andy Warhol | Sixteen Jackies, Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas, in sixteen parts

Created in 1964 
Each: 50.8 x 40.6 cm, Overall: 205.7 x 165.1 cm

  • Leo Castelli Gallery, New York 
  • Mr. and Mrs. David Pincus, Philadelphia (acquired from the above in 1965)
  • Christie's New York, 15 November 2006, Lot 37 (consigned by the above)
  • Acquired by the present owner from the above sale

Estimate: US$15,000,000 – 20,000,000

Hammer Price: US$29,250,000

Sold: US$33,872,250

Lot 22 | Gerhard Richter | Abstraktes Bild 797-2, Oil on canvas  

Created in 1993
240 x 240 cm

  • Marian Goodman Gallery, New York
  • James Erskine, Sydney
  • Richard Gray Gallery, New York
  • Acquired by the present owner from the above in July 2005

Estimate: US$20,000,000 – 30,000,000

Hammer Price: US$28,500,000

Sold: US$33,010,500

Lot 7 | Pablo Picasso | Figure (Projet pour un monument a Guillaume Apollinaire), Welded steel 

Created in 1962 
Height: 120 cm 

  • Estate of the artist
  • Claude Picasso, Paris (acquired by descent from the above) 
  • PaceWildenstein, New York
  • Acquired by the present owner from the above in July 1995

Estimate: US$15,000,000 – 25,000,000

Hammer Price: US$23,500,000

Sold: US$27,265,500

Auction Summary:

Auction House: Sotheby’s New York

Sale: The Macklowe Collection Evening Sale

Date: 15 November 2021

Number of lots: 35

Sale Rate: 100%

Sale Total: US$676,055,000