Microsoft Co-Founder Paul G. Allen’s Art Collection Sale To Raise $1 Billion For Charity

The tech mogul’s record-setting art collection will be the most expensive ever sold at auction.

“Small False Start”
(Courtesy of the Paul G. Allen Estate)

This November, art and tech are set to meet at their natural intersection—money.

Christie’s will auction off the collection of Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen in partnership with Allen’s estate later this fall. They expect the forthcoming sale, titled Visionary, to fetch over $1 billion, making it “the largest and most exceptional art auction in history,” i.e. the most expensive.  

The late Allen was born in 1953, and passed away in October 2018. He first changed the world by co-founding Microsoft in 1975, and inaugurated his first charitable foundation by 1986. 

“Paul’s life was guided by his desire to make this world a better place,” Christie’s CEO Guillaume Cerutti remarks. “We believe that presenting his collection at auction and giving the opportunity to wider audiences to discover it will be a fitting tribute to celebrate Paul Allen’s vision and legacy.” It’s not every day that the head honcho chimes in on a sale’s press release.

Allen’s friends considered him a polymath, a person with an impossibly wide range of skills and interests—tech obviously, but also culture. Allen created the acclaimed Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) in 2000 and launched the Allen Institute in 2003, focused on “game-changing scientific breakthroughs across brain science, cell science, and immunology,” Christie’s says.

So far, they’re keeping the details of Allen’s collection relatively quiet, though Cerutti told the New York Times “it embraces five centuries of great art — from Botticelli to David Hockney.” 

PAUL CÉZANNE (1839-1906)
“La Montagne Sainte-Victoire”
(Courtesy of the Paul G. Allen Estate)

Only two works from the sale are on preview—an impressionist idyll by Cézanne called La Montagne Sainte-Victoire from 1890, and a colorful abstraction by post-war superstar Jasper Johns, circa 1960. Both blue chip artists command massive price points in their own right.

The release hints there’s more where that came from. Allen anonymously loaned works from his extensive collection to dozens of museums around the world, even mounting his own exhibitions like the Seeing Nature show that toured 39 iconic landscape paintings around America in 2016.

“You have to be doing it because you just love the works… and you know that all these works are going to outlast you,” Allen once said in an interview for Seeing Nature. “You’re only a temporary custodian of them.” All proceeds from the sale “will be dedicated to philanthropy, pursuant to Mr. Allen’s wishes,” the sale’s description reads.

Christie’s points out that like his Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Allen donated $2.65 billion over his lifetime, enriching society’s relationship with bioscience, shared art, music, and film while also championing health tech, endangered species, and ocean exploration. 

He was also an early signer of the Giving Pledge in 2010 and received the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy in 2015. 

“To Paul, art was both analytical and emotional,” says estate executor Jody Allen. He believed that art expressed a unique view of reality—combining the artist’s inner state and inner eye – in a way that can inspire us all. His collection reflects the diversity of his interests, with their own mystique and beauty. These works mean so much to so many, and I know that Christie’s will ensure their respectful dispersal to generate tremendous value for philanthropic pursuits in accordance with Paul’s wishes.”