By GRAHAM BOWLEY and COLIN MOYNIHAN

THE NEW YORK TIMES

The chairman’s art collection is coming to Sotheby’s.

After a heated, monthslong contest with its archrival Christie’s, Sotheby’s announced on Thursday that it had won the right to sell the estate of one of its former leaders, A. Alfred Taubman, the philanthropist and shopping mall magnate whose large and varied art collection, from old master classics to Modernist masterpieces, could be one of the most valuable private art collections ever brought to auction.

The auction house estimated that the sales, planned for November and January, would bring in more than $500 million, placing it in the ranks of the Yves St. Laurent sale that raised $477 million in 2009 at Christie’s in Paris.

While the collection does not include a standout trophy like the 1955 “Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’)” by Picasso that sold for $179.4 million at Christie’s in May, it is broad and deep, with 500 pieces in all, including furniture, many of them created by coveted names like Mark Rothko, Amedeo Modigliani and Raphael. Several of the most expensive pieces, such as Willem de Kooning’s “Untitled XXI” from 1976, with an estimate of $25 million to $35 million, have never been publicly auctioned.

For Mr. Taubman, who died in April at 91, the sale represents a from-the-grave lift to an auction house he had transformed from a struggling business into a global powerhouse during the 22 years he was the principal owner. In recent years, however, Sotheby’s has been trailing Christie’s in sales volumes.

Yet even as he transformed Sotheby’s, and the art market, with an aggressive retailing flair, Mr. Taubman was also associated with a less glorious period in the auction house’s history. In 2001, he was convicted in a price-fixing scheme with Christie’s that was said to have swindled customers out of more than $100 million. He served nine and a half months in prison.

Winning the Taubman estate comes at a pivotal moment for Sotheby’s and its new president and chief executive, Tad Smith. He took over in March, promising shareholders that he would be judicious in the use of guarantees, the practice by auction houses of promising a seller a minimum price on a work or a collection. The house, or an outside guarantor, is on the hook if bidding falls short of that price.

The Taubman estate is fully guaranteed as part of the Sotheby’s deal, a sign of the lengths to which the house went to avoid the embarrassment of losing a prized collection to a rival. The company would not reveal the minimum amount that had been guaranteed for the collection… Read more here.

About the author