What’s to Become of the Paul Allen Collection?

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Jules Bastien-Lepage The Flower Seller of London, 1882

When Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, owner of the Seattle Seahawks and art collector died last week leaving behind no spouse and no children, questions immediately arose about the future of his projects. His impact on Seattle, on the world, and in art was substantial.

About two years ago he displayed some of his amazing art collection in a small gallery in Seattle. This is how I came face to face with one of my favorite Jules Bastien-Lepage paintings — The Flower Seller of London, 1882. I was gobsmacked that Allen owned it and that it wasn’t in a museum on display somewhere in France. Then, a few months later, more of Allen’s collection joined a different exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum and I have to say it was some of the best work the SAM has ever shown — beautiful Sergent landscapes and breathtaking Monets.

From a Bloomberg article: A lover of Monet, Allen was the anonymous buyer of the French painter’s 1891 canvas of a haystack for $81.4 million, then an auction record, at Christie’s in 2016, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified because the transaction was private. The bidding war lasted 14 minutes.

Both of the Seattle exhibits allowed the public only a brief glimpse at these world-renowned treasures.

At the time Allen acknowledged, “To live with these pieces of art is truly amazing. I feel that you should share some of the works to give the public a chance to see them.” With that in mind now, I’m on the edge of my seat to know will the public get to see them again? Will they stay in Seattle, in America? I wonder if he planned to endow the SAM and bolster the city museum. Or will his estate create a new museum where his curation can be on permanent display? No sign of any answers yet.

Here’s just a taste from the SAM exhibit:

Gustav Klimt, Birch Forest (1903)
Claude Monet, Meule (Hay Stack), 1891
(Closer) Claude Monet, Meule (Hay Stack), 1891
Thomas Cole, Ruins in the Campagna di Roma, Morning, 1842
Canaletto, The Grand Canal, Venice, 1738 
Manet, View in the Venice Grand Canal, 1874 

This is a personal favorite, though the photography doesn’t capture the quality of the light. In the low-lit gallery with dark gray walls, the painting glowed like a warm nightlight from across the room:

John Singer Sargent, The Chess Game, c. 1907
(taken on an iPhone at the exhibit)

There’s so much more to these exhibits than shown here, and more to the Allen collection than we know. For instance, large art purchases are often made anonymously. And the two exhibits in which we did get to see the Allen collection were curated along specific themes giving us only a vague clue to his taste in private curation. One thing we can say for certain is he collected fine works across the spectrum from photography to pop art to realist masterpieces. Wherever The Flower Seller ends up, I hope it’s local, open and that there’s a bench in front of it.

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Detail from The Flower Seller of London