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Billionaire Plans to Part With $35 Million Painting at Hong Kong’s Art Basel

Updated on
  • ‘Untitled XII’ will be for sale at Art Basel Hong Kong
  • The 1975 painting fetched $517,000 at auction in 1987

Levy Gorvy Gallery’s Brett Gorvy discusses art in Asia, and an abstract painting by Willem de Kooning "Untitled XII."

Billionaire Paul Allen plans to part with a trophy from his prized art collection.

A vibrant abstract painting by Willem de Kooning, “Untitled XII,” will be among the top highlights of Art Basel Hong Kong, an international fair that opens next week. Priced at $35 million, the canvas will be offered by Levy Gorvy Gallery.

Willem de Kooning, "Untitled XII"

Source: Levy Gorvy Gallery

Asian billionaires have been snapping up Western masterpieces at an accelerating pace. China is the second largest marketplace for art after the U.S., according to an annual art market report. Collectors from Korea and China have purchased at least 10 major de Kooning paintings in the past decade, according to Brett Gorvy, a co-founder of the gallery and former chairman of Christie’s postwar and contemporary art.

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Billionaire collectors like Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft Corp., often prune their art holdings to finance new purchases.

“This sale is part of normal course of business for a collector like Paul,” said Alexa Rudin, a spokeswoman at Vulcan Inc., Allen’s family office that manages his business and charitable interests and whose staff includes 15 art experts. The work is being sold through the Paul G. Allen Family Collection, Rudin said.

Allen’s Gerhard Richter painting of a jet fetched $25.6 million at auction in 2016, more than doubling since 2007. His painting by Mark Rothko sold for $56.2 million at Phillips in 2014 and a monumental Barnett Newman canvas went for $43.8 million at Sotheby’s in 2013.

Important Period

The de Kooning -- a vortex of flesh-toned brushstrokes and irregular shapes accentuated with bubble-gum pink and sky blue -- was painted in 1975, the beginning of a two-year stretch considered among the most accomplished in the Abstract Expressionist artist’s life.

The six most expensive paintings by de Kooning at auction were created during this time, according to Artnet. His auction record: $66.3 million for a 1977 “Untitled XXV" sold at Christie’s in 2016.

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The artist was in his 70s and newly in love with a much younger woman. “I made those paintings, one after another, no trouble at all,” he would later recall, comparing himself to a man at a gambling table who “feels that he can’t lose,” according to an exhibition catalog.

Allen bought the de Kooning privately in 2001, but declined to say how much he paid. The painting once belonged to Aldo Gucci, a son of the luxury brand’s founder, and in 1987, it fetched $517,000 at auction. In 2000, another painting made the same year and of same size as “Untitled XII" fetched $1.4 million at Sotheby’s, according to Artnet.

Private Sale

Hedge fund manager Ken Griffin bought a painting by de Kooning for $300 million from billionaire David Geffen in a private transaction, ranking it the most expensive artwork behind Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi.”

Some lower-priced de Kooning paintings will be offered during May auctions in New York: a 1976 “Untitled XVIII" from the estate of billionaire couple Joan and Preston Robert Tisch and a 1982 “Untitled XIX” from the Rockefeller estate, both at Christie’s; and a 1978 “Untitled VI" sold by the Mandel Foundation at Sotheby’s.

(Updates with Rockefeller estate sale in last paragraph.)
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