Art collection expected to fetch at least $600m to help settle divorce

By Mark Brown Arts correspondent
A Picasso sculpture is just one of the works Sotheby’s will be auctioning.
A Picasso sculpture is just one of the works Sotheby’s will be auctioning. Photograph: Image courtesy of Sothebys

It is a collection that has attained almost mythical status in the art world, one that contains spectacular works by Picasso, Rothko, Warhol and a nightmarish Giacometti sculpture of a Pinocchio-like nose in a cage.

After a US judge ordered its sale to help settle a billionaire couple’s acrimonious divorce there has been a string of rumours and stories about who would sell the collection and when.

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

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

Giacometti’s Le Nez and Warhol’s Nine Marilyns.
Giacometti’s Le Nez and Warhol’s Nine Marilyns. Photograph: Image courtesy of Sothebys

Lawyers for the couple, both in their 80s, have wrangled over how belongings should be divided and valued, not least the incredible art collection. A judge eventually ordered that 65 of the most valuable works should be sold and the proceeds split.

It is these works which will be auctioned by Sotheby’s in November and May.

Charles Stewart, chief executive officer of of the auction house, said it was the “one of the most significant and museum-quality collections of modern and contemporary art ever to come to market”.

“This collection was assembled with an unparalleled eye over several decades,” he said. “There can be no doubt that this sale will captivate top collectors from around the world and will make history as a defining moment in the art market.”

Those top collectors will need to have deep pockets. The Giacometti is being sold with an estimate in the region of $70m. A similar estimate has been put on Mark Rothko’s No 7, an 8ft-high 1951 painting with three fields of vibrant, hypnotising lavender, green and crimson.

The Warhols in the sale include Nine Marilyns, a screenprint based on a 1953 publicity photograph of Marilyn Monroe from the film Niagara. The work is one of only two in private hands and has an estimate of $40m-$60m.

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

Work by Cy Twombly.
Work by Cy Twombly. Photograph: 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 property developers. His ex-wife Linda is a prominent figure in the city’s art scene and an honorary trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a trustee of the Guggenheim foundation.

While they were married they were known for excess. When New York’s jazz age landmark, the Plaza hotel, reopened after a $400m renovation Harry Macklowe bought an entire floor of the residential block, knocking nine apartments in to one for the couple to live in.

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

Their divorce has been rancorous and very public. After Harry Macklowe married his new wife Patricia Landeau he had installed a thousand square feet portrait of the happy couple on a skyscraper overlooking Central Park.

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

It has high hopes for the Giacometti which Brooke Lampley, worldwide head of sales for global fine art, described as “one of the most extraordinary sculptures I have ever encountered.

“Conceived in the late 1940s this 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 casts were almost all immediately acquired by major museums around the world.”

Sotheby’s would have had a tough battle with Christie’s to secure selling the collection. It declined to go in to detail but did confirm it had offered a guarantee price for the sale, meaning it will pay out even if the works fail to sell.

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

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

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

It is one of only four Richter seascapes on this scale and comes with a price tag of $25m-35m.


What is inkl?

Important stories

See news based on value, not advertising potential. Get the latest news from around the world.

Trusted newsrooms

We bring you reliable news from the world’s most experienced journalists in the most trusted newsrooms.

Ad-free reading

Read without interruptions, distractions or intrusions of privacy.