The Macklowe Collection: Most Valuable Collection In Auction History

Micaela Preble
May 17, 2022

The contentious divorce between NY real estate mogul Harry Macklowe, and his wife Linda has attracted the attention of the art world. Over the course of their 59-year marriage, the couple had amassed a massive and valuable collection of blue-chip art – including names such as Rothko, Twombly, Warhol, Richter, Marden, Giacometti, de Kooning, Pollock, Polke, Johns, and many more. The collection itself was expected to value more than $800 million after the first portion of 35 artworks were auctioned off in November of 2021 for a record-setting $676 million.

This was the highest-grossing auction from a single collection ever in Sotheby’s history. The next portion of 30 works was sold last night with an estimate of $196 million that was broken, bringing in $208.72 million prior to fees. Combining, the Macklowe collection surpassed Rockefeller’s, as the most valuable collection in auction history. 

Image: Never-Before-Seen Late Masterpiece by Mark Rothko, Untitled, estimate: $35-50 million. Credit: Malcolm Park/Alamy Live News.
Image: Never-Before-Seen Late Masterpiece by Mark Rothko, Untitled, estimate: $35-50 million. Credit: Malcolm Park/Alamy Live News.


Who Are The Macklowe’s and Why Did They Divorce? 

Linda and Harry Macklowe were the classic billionaire museum donor couple. Harry, a successful New York real estate mogul, and Linda, a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, were very active in the museum art scene. Through their 50-some-year marriage, the couple had been avid collectors of the modern and post-war contemporary variety. However, although their collection was coveted, their marriage left to be desired. The Macklowe’s filed for divorce in 2016 over speculation of Harry’s infidelity, which was later confirmed. The couple had undergone a bitter divorce that was granted in 2019, but what was left was the matter of their art collection. 

Why Are The Macklowe’s Auctioning Off Their Collection?

Given the tension between the two parties during the divorce the divvying up of the assets was a harsh reality to face. The New York Times even reported that the art collection represented 60-75% of the couple’s assets. Harry Macklowe’s attorney during appeals, David Boies, used this statistic on grounds that the art needed to be dissolved in order for the couple to sustain their lifestyles. 

Linda, had argued that she wanted the art sold one by one, as opposed to a group sale to preserve the valuation by her appraisers and to generate a cash flow when funds were necessary. Harry and his team shut this down quickly due to the tax implications that would impose. The continued disagreement from both sides led to the future of the collection being decided by the state. Because each party had conflicting valuations from their separate appraisal experts, with a difference surpassing $100 million; it was decided that the only agreeable way to move forward was through a public auction. The proceeds would then be split between Linda and Harry. 

The multinational auction house, Sotheby’s, won the bid for hosting the momentous auction with an estimated guarantee of between $600 million and $700 million to the divorced couple.

Technicians present The Copyist, 1982, by Sigmar Polke (Est. $3-4 million).  Credit: Stephen Chung / Alamy Live News
Technicians present The Copyist, 1982, by Sigmar Polke (Est. $3-4 million). Credit: Stephen Chung / Alamy Live News

How Much Art Is In The Collection?

The collection was acquired over a span of 50 years and had grown to a size that was not able to fit in the couple’s Plaza apartment or their Hampton’s estate. The amount in the collection was something that Sotheby’s has stated previously was “fairly staggering” and “one of

the great prizes.” Linda was granted to keep a portion of the collection for herself. However, 65 individual pieces would be auctioned off by Sotheby’s. In November of 2021, 35 pieces were offered. Yesterday the remaining 30 pieces were up for auction. Both the November and May sale were dubbed white glove sales, meaning that every lot was sold and is considered a mass achievement to both the house and previous owners. 

 Alberto Giacometti's La Nez sculpture at the press preview for Sotheby's Marquee Evening Sales starring the Macklowe Collection, New York, NY, November 5, 2021. (Photo by Anthony Behar/Sipa USA) Credit: Sipa USA/Alamy Live News
Alberto Giacometti’s La Nez sculpture at the press preview for Sotheby’s Marquee Evening Sales starring the Macklowe Collection, New York, NY, November 5, 2021. (Photo by Anthony Behar/Sipa USA) Credit: Sipa USA/Alamy Live News


How Much Was The November Portion of The Sale?

The Macklowe sale in November had generated a large buzz in the art community. The auction took place at Sotheby’s headquarters in New York City. The sale had amassed a grand total of $676 million after fees making it the highest-grossing single collection ever sold in the auction house’s long history to that date The sale was highlighted by several notable works. The first is the large pink, yellow, and orange Mark Rothko, titled No. 7. This painting was sold for a staggering $82.5 million*, a new record for the late abstract artist. The second-highest lot was a sculpture, La Nez, by surrealist sculpture Aberto Giocommetii. This sculpture was purchased by crypto mogul, Justin Sun, for $78.4 million*. Following the trend of abstract artists in the collection, were works by Jackson Pollock and Cy Twombly. Both had paintings that went far beyond the estimated value. Pollock’s Number 17, 1951 was sold for $61.2 million* setting a new auction record for Pollock. Twombly saw a similar effect, setting a new auction record with Untitled, which sold for $58.9 million*. 

 Gerhard Richter, Seestuck (Seascape), 1975, est. $25-35 million Credit: Guy Bell/Alamy Live News
Gerhard Richter, Seestuck (Seascape), 1975, est. $25-35 million Credit: Guy Bell/Alamy Live News

 How Much Was The May Portion of The Sale?

The May portion of the collection had 30 of the remaining lots hit the auction block. With eager anticipation, the first few in the sale saw exciting bidding including Lichtenstein’s Mirror #9 which sold for triple the value of the high estimate for a whopping $5 million. Another highlight of the sale was Canadian artist, Agnes Martin. Last November in the first portion of the Macklowe collection she achieved a $17.7 million* auction record. In May her 2001, work titled Early Morning Happiness tripled its estimate closing at $8.3 million prior to fees. The remaining 30 were surrounded by the works of notable artists such as Andy Warhol, Gerard Richter, and a never before seen Rothko that fetched a hammer price of $41.5 million. All in all the May portion of the sale concluded with a grand total of $246.1 million including buyer’s premiums. 

Untitled by Cy Twombly is on display as part of the The Macklowe Collection at a press preview for New York Marquee Evening Sales at Sotheby's in New York City on Friday, November 5, 2021. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI Credit: UPI/Alamy Live News
Untitled by Cy Twombly is on display as part of the The Macklowe Collection at a press preview for New York Marquee Evening Sales at Sotheby’s in New York City on Friday, November 5, 2021. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI Credit: UPI/Alamy Live News

What Is The Significance of The Macklowe Collection? 

The Macklowe collection will stand as one of the most profound and influential collections in art history. This historic sale, split into two portions, had grossed $922.2 million* making the Macklowe Collection the most valuable collection ever sold at auction. This is no surprise given the unparalleled quality and care in the selection and collecting done by the Macklowe’s. The selection of the artists included in their collection displays this best. Individually, each of the artworks in the collection reflects the artists at their very best in their careers. Together, the collection serves as a representation of the pinnacle of western artistic achievement from the last 80 years. 

* pricing includes buyer’s premium



Micaela Preble
Micaela is an NYC-based art content writer covering art investing, art news, and art historical content. Micaela graduated from Georgia Southern University in 2021 with a Bachelor of Arts in Art History with a minor in communication arts. During her time at GSU she was a member of The Design Group (DG) and Student Art League (SAL) while also actively participating in curating and volunteering at the Center for Art and Theatre.