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Sotheby’s to auction late magnate’s $500M art collection

A vast trove of artworks valued at $500m that belonged to the late billionaire collector A. Alfred Taubman and ranges from antiquities through to modern classics is to go under the hammer at Sotheby's.

The collection of more than 500 items includes pieces by the Old Masters, such as the Italian painter Raphael, and reads like a run-through of 20th century art movements with coveted works by Modigliani, Willem de Kooning and the mother of American modernism, Georgia O'Keeffe.


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Mario Tama | Getty Images

The four standalone auctions will start on 4 November. Pablo Picasso's "Femme Assise sur une Chaisse", from 1938, is estimated to fetch $25m to $35m, while two paintings by abstract expressions Mark Rothko are expected to bring in $20m to $30m each.

Following the death of the self-made shopping mall magnate in April at the age of 91, the works will go on sale at the New York-based auction house he transformed from a venerable but ailing British establishment into a multibillion-dollar business that handled the auction of the jewels of the Duchess of Windsor and the Andy Warhol collection.

After taking over the company in 1983 for £83m before floating it five years later, Taubman was later ensnared in events that tainted Sotheby's and his own reputation.

An investigation in the early 2000s led to his conviction of price-fixing with rival auction house Christies, in a racket prosecutors said cheated customers out of about $100m. A plea bargain arrangement saw Taubman serve nine-and-a-half months in prison and receive a $7.5m fine, although he always maintained his innocence.

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Taubman's journey to the apex of the art market began with humble origins. Born in Michigan to Polish Jewish immigrants in 1924, he borrowed $5,000 in 1950 and entered the building trade, developing shopfronts. He went on to develop real estate and shopping centres and in the 1980s and featured on the list of America's top 10 wealthiest people. He was worth $3bn at the time of his death, according to Forbes.

Taubman was also known for his philanthropy, donating to healthcare and medical research as well as to causes in his home town of Detroit, where several of the works in the collection had been on loan to an arts institute.

He sold his controlling stake in Sotheby's in 2005 for $217m.

The auction house said that proceeds from the sale would be used to settle the Taubman estate's tax obligations and fund a foundation.

Sotheby's attributed a 15 per cent slide in profits last year to increased expenses and a higher tax rate. It reported net income of $77.6m, despite a 10 per cent jump in revenues to $305m.