Dollars and Divorce in the Art World

By Isabella Diez, Co-President

The highly anticipated $600 million art collection of Harry and Linda Machlowe is up for auction, following a tumultuous divorce.

Real estate billionaire, Harry Machlowe, and businesswoman, Linda Machlowe, married during the Eisenhower administration in 1959. During their 59 year marriage, the couple carefully curated their art collection to contain some of the most prestigious pieces in the world including works by Rothko, Picasso, Monet and Van Gogh. 

During their 2018 divorce proceedings, after their assets were divided and each party walked away with $500 million, the Machlowe’s were instructed by the courts to sell their art collection, with the resulting proceeds split between them. The parties were unable to agree on the value of their collection, with a difference of $30 million. The collection was finally valued at over $600 million dollars. 

The three largest auction houses, Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Phillips, all competed for the handling of this highly publicized and valuable sale. After a ruthless campaign, Sotheby’s was appointed to head the sale of the collection on the merit of guaranteeing the largest profit. 

Chairman of contemporary art for Sotheby’s, Grégoire Billault, states that, “It’s a collection that has never been moved (or) touched. Quite often, when we have collections for sale, a lot of it has been sold already, or some (works) are given to museums; others are given to members of the family.”

Experts say that it is presumably the highest valued collection ever to be featured in an auction. “It is one of the most significant and museum-quality collections of modern and contemporary art ever to come to market”, states Charles Stewart, CEO of Sotheby’s, and “this sale will…make history as the defining moments in the art market.”

With 65 pieces, this collection contains the works of Picasso, Giacometti, and Koons. One piece generating a lot of excitement  is Andy Warhol’s 1962 Nine Marilyns, estimated at $40-60 million, which features serial screen prints of Marilyn Monroe. One of the three Van Gogh pieces that is up for sale is estimated to sell between $20m-$30 million, making it Van Gogh’s priciest watercolour to sell at an auction.

Prior to the auction, the pieces were on  display in Taipei, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, London, and Paris. The sale of this collection will take place on two occasions, one on November 15th in New York and the second one in May of 2022.

Postponed due to the pandemic, it is hoped that the intrigue surrounding the sale of this collection will stimulate the art industry. Due to the lack of auctions and movement over the past eighteen months, this field experienced a 30% decline in sales  from 25.5 billion in 2019 to 17.6 billion in 2020. 

The publicity surrounding the divorce of the esteemed New York couple has only brought more attention to the most widely anticipated auction of the year.

Photo by Amy-Leigh Barnard on Unsplash.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s