The Collection of Alfred Taubman at Sothebys

One of the best ways to see fantastic art is to go to the big auction houses.  There are a few things that make it fun.  To see what one person or family has collected is usually shown in one fell swoop.  The other highlight is that each piece has the name of the artist and the estimated price that they believe the piece will go for at auction.  Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t but I have always found it frustrating to go to a gallery and have zero idea what the price of the art is.

Fred and I went up to Sotheby’s on Saturday to check out the collection of Alfred Taubman that is up for auction.  He collected what he liked and what he could afford.  He could afford a lot.  The collection runs the gamut from Picasso to Rothko.  Taubman began his career as a real estate developer who went on to build real estate malls across the country.  That made him a billionaire.  He bought Sotheby’s in 1983 and took the company public in 1988.  In the early 2000’s there was a price-fixing scandal between Christie’s and Sotheby’s that led to Taubman spending 10 months in jail and paying $7.5 million in fines.  His CEO, Diana Brooks implicated him to stay out of prison.  He was released in 2003 and has always insisted that he was innocent.  Taubman died in 2015.  He was a big philanthropist and loved the arts.

lichensteinThe show is up for a few days before it goes to auction.  Here are the few highlights for me.  This Lichtenstein piece is right when you walk in and it is estimated to go between $5-7m.

miroThere is also this Joan Miro right next to it.  Really unique piece.  Estimate 15-20m.


rothkoRothko, estimated between 20-30m.  Love this!

modgilianaThis is the piece of the show by Modigliani.  There is not a price on this piece  You have to ask and based on all the other prices at this show it will be wild to see what this goes for.  It is beautiful.

mooreHenry Moore sculpture.

sargeantJohn Singer Sargent, 800k-1.2M.  It is interesting to see the old school masters prices go for less than the new modern artists.

bertoiaI loved this piece from Harry Bertoia, $250-350m.

egonEgon Schiele, $1.8 – 2.5m.  I have always been a fan but after seeing such a large amount of his work this summer in Vienna at the Leopold Museum I am a bigger fan.

jimdineJim Dine $150-200K.  He is still creating art.

legerFernand Leger, $1.2-1.8m

dekoonigThis Wilem de Koonig might have been my favorite piece in his collection $25-35m.

1baconThere were two Francis Bacon’s and I liked this one more.  $4-6m.

wineAfterward we made our way downstairs and took a walk through the wine store.  An incredible store worth checking out too.  Great presentation and incredibly knowledgeable people.  They also have auctions!

What I find interesting about the whole collection is this was owned by one man.  He collected what he loved.  After the works are sold this collection will never be together again.  My guess is that there is more to this collection and some of the pieces that were absolutely loved by the family were kept for themselves.  For whatever reason the family did not want to keep everything but has chosen to put the art work up for auction.  Sotheby’s has guaranteed the Taubman family at least $500m in proceeds from this auction.  That money will go back into the family and used for something else perhaps real estate investments, other art or whatever.  It is just an end of era in one generation of a very wealthy family as they move the assets of their patriarch into cash allowing others to enjoy those pieces of art on their walls in other peoples homes or museums across the globe.  It is really a bit of history.

Comments (Archived):

  1. Erin

    Is the wife still alive? She would’ve kept most of it, wouldn’t she have?

    1. Gotham Gal

      Great question. Sadly I never saw anything about her anywhere

      1. LIAD

        family let greed get to their heads…

        1. Gotham Gal

          woah. someone told me last night that the reason much of the art had to be sold was to pay the estate taxes. i was surprised that he wasn’t smart about setting up trusts, insurance etc so that it was taken care of. who knows what goes on behind closed doors.

        2. jason wright


        3. jason wright

          an uber first world problem. always carry an emergency tent.i don’t care for the footwear. money and taste 😉

  2. Dan Conway

    Love that Rothko.And great comment about the Sargent going for less than the moderns. A good friend at Sotheby’s recently commented there’s not a lot of interest from boomers or millennials in acquiring much old except top line. It all feels so dated to them now. Especially things like furniture. So prices have come down. A generational issue that seems greater because the world has become so tech/modern and now a lot of old feels/looks really old. So what’s to become the rest of it? There’s a lot of that inventory coming.Paintings, artifacts, furniture. Love the art pieces but eventually the question becomes how much will we or the grandkids want/be able to hold on to and what to do with the rest of it? So now we are trying to get in front of the categorizing, the photographing, the creating of appraisal books, meeting with auction houses, going through storage spaces. Absolutely first world problems but not easy.Art is wonderful to collect and hard to let go of but if something suddenly happens to the collector, art assets may be the most physically taxing and time consuming investment (possible headache) left behind for the surviving family. What to do with all that stuff!

    1. Gotham Gal

      Totally…what to do with all that art that we never liked.

  3. awaldstein

    The Rothko room during the Abstract Expressionist show at Momo a while back like a drug.i couldn’t stop going back and back and back.

  4. jason wright

    Belvedere, Museums Quarter, Schoenbrunn, a cool city, and a contrast to my next destination Budapest. I liked Klimt most of all. Schiele is a bit stark for my taste, although i did like this one when i came across it;…did you buy?not sure a feminist would go for the Moore sculpture. the head seems overly small in proportion to the exaggerated attributes. women have no brains?the de Kooning is very optimistic. he rode bicycles. good enough for me.

    1. Gotham Gal

      i like that one too.i did not buy. 🙂

  5. jason wright


  6. Jessamyn Waldman

    Eli mentioned that you stopped by and caught him in the store. I am dying to see the exhibition, but fear that I am going to miss it. Eli always reminds me that when the art is on the walls at Sotheby’s, you have a week or two to see it before it goes back into someone’s private collection– usually for generation.

    1. Gotham Gal

      IT is quick. In and out. Worth seeing. This one will never been seen again.