Skip to main content

It’s a collection that has achieved almost mythical status in the art world, containing spectacular works by Picasso, Rothko, Warhol and a nightmarish sculpture by Giacometti of a Pinocchio-like nose in a cage.

After a US judge ordered its sale to help settle the acrimonious divorce of a billionaire couple, there were a series of rumors and stories about who would sell the collection and when.

On Thursday, auction house Sotheby’s announced it had won the battle to sell and would hold two auctions for works with a combined estimate of $600 million, the highest figure ever placed on a single collection.

The collection is owned by Harry and Linda Macklowe, an incredibly wealthy New York couple who began divorce proceedings five years ago after 59 years of marriage.

The Nose by Giacometti and Nine Marilyns by Warhol. Photography: Image courtesy of Sothebys

The couple’s lawyers, both in their 80s, argued over how the assets should be divided and valued, including the incredible art collection. A judge eventually ordered that 65 of the most valuable works be sold and the proceeds shared.

These are the works that will be auctioned by Sotheby’s in November and May.

Charles Stewart, managing director of the auction house, said it was “one of the most significant, museum-quality collections of modern and contemporary art ever brought to market”.

“This collection has been assembled with an unparalleled eye over several decades,” he said. “There is no doubt that this sale will captivate the best collectors around the world and mark history as a defining moment in the art market.”

These top collectors will need to have deep pockets. The Giacometti is sold with an estimate of around 70 million dollars. A similar estimate was made on Mark Rothko’s No 7, an 8-foot-tall painting from 1951 featuring three vibrant and mesmerizing fields of lavender, green and crimson.

The Warhols in the sale include Nine Marilyns, a serigraph based on a 1953 publicity photograph of Marilyn Monroe from the film Niagara. The work is one of only two in private hands and is estimated between $40 and $60 million.

The same estimate was placed on a giant 2007 Cy Twombly painting of red peony flowers, one of a group of six monumental paintings known as A Scattering of Blossoms.

Artwork by Cy Twombly.
Artwork by Cy Twombly. Photography: Image courtesy of Sothebys

There are also works by Jeff Koons, Agnes Martin, Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter and Brice Marden.

Harry Macklowe is one of New York’s best-known real estate developers. His ex-wife Linda is a prominent figure in the city’s art scene and Honorary Trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Trustee of the Guggenheim Foundation.

While they were married, they were known for their excesses. When New York’s jazz-age landmark, the Plaza Hotel, reopened after a $400 million renovation, Harry Macklowe bought an entire floor of the residential block, knocking nine apartments into one. for the couple.

Harry Macklowe and Linda Macklowe in 2005.
Harry Macklowe and Linda Macklowe in 2005. Photography: Patrick McMullan/Getty Images

Their divorce was resentful and very public. After Harry Macklowe married his new wife Patricia Landeau, he installed a thousand-square-foot portrait of the happy couple on a skyscraper overlooking Central Park.

Sotheby’s has put a combined estimate of $600 million on the sale, the highest estimate ever placed on an upcoming collection at auction. But he believes the figure is conservative. The suggestion is that the sale could beat the $835 million made by Christie’s in 2018 when it sold the art collection of David and Peggy Rockefeller.

He places high hopes in the Giacometti which Brooke Lampley, Global Sales Manager for Global Fine Art, has described as “one of the most extraordinary sculptures I have ever encountered.

“Conceived in the late 1940s, it is a bold and daring work that references both Surrealism and African sculpture. No other example of this work has ever appeared at auction. The majority of the casts have were almost all immediately acquired by the great museums of the world.

Sotheby’s reportedly had a tough battle with Christie’s to secure the sale of the collection. He declined to go into specifics, but confirmed that he had offered a guaranteed price for the sale, which means he will pay even if the works do not sell.

The works will be exhibited at Sotheby’s galleries in London, Taipei, Hong Kong, Los Angeles and Paris before the first sale in New York on November 15.

British auctioneer Oliver Barker will be on the podium. He said recent months have seen record demand at the high end of the art market and “a real thirst for great masterpieces”. The sale would be a “once in a lifetime opportunity”.

He chose one of his favourites, a “breathtaking” work by Gerhard Richter from 1975 titled Seestück. He said it condensed the influence of 19th-century artists such as JMW Turner, John Constable and Caspar David Friedrich, but was at the same time “resolutely contemporary…a powerful illustration of Richter’s towering status among living artists today.

It is one of only four seascapes by Richter on this scale and is priced between $25 and $35 million.