When one of the world’s greatest architects I.M. Pei — whose designs included the Louvre‘s iconic crystal pyramid and Hong Kong’s Bank of China Tower — passed away last May at the age of 102, he left behind an incredible private art collection that he and his wife, Eileen, had amassed over the course of their 72-year marriage.
The 59-piece art collection will go to auction at British auction house Christie’s and is estimated to fetch over HK$196 million (US$25 million). It includes paintings and drawings, in addition to paper and sculpture works by an impressive array of artists. Among them is American abstract expressionist Barnett Newman, French painter and sculptor Jean Dubuffet, English sculptor Henry Moore, and Chinese-French painter Zao Wou-Ki, whom I.M. Pei had developed a close friendship with since 1952 when they met at a gallery in Paris.
The Pei family had great relationships with friends from the art world and the collection truly illustrates that.
“My parents’ collection is a personal reflection of how they lived. They shared a deep curiosity about the world and I have wonderful memories of traveling with them. No matter the country, they always seemed to have friends, many of whom were artists, architects, gallerists and museum directors, ready to welcome them.”
Top lots in Christie’s 20th-Century Asian art evening sale on 23 November in Hong Kong include two paintings by Zao Wou-Ki. One of which is a large oil-on-canvas titled 27.3.70 (1970), which is expected to sell between HK$38 million and HK$48 million (or US$4.8 million and US$6.1 million).
Their daughter Liane Pei recalls in her statement, “Whenever we were in Paris, we would visit Zao Wou-Ki, whom I always referred to as ‘Uncle Wou-Ki,’ to see his latest paintings.”
Other coveted lots going under the hammer include colour field canvases by Barnett Newman named Untitled 4 (1950) and Untitled 5 (1950), which are estimated to sell for approximately HK$62 million (US$8 million) and HK$39 million (US$5 million) respectively. The artworks were gifted to Pei by Newman’s wife Annalee in the mid-1970s and stem from a series of six paintings; three of which are currently in museum collections.
Another is Jean Dubuffet’s La Brouette (1964), or The Wheelbarrow, which is at the heart of the artist’s 12-year Hourloupe cycle. Dubuffet, who was another friend of the couple, created works that depicted everyday objects such as utensils, chairs, boats, and of course the wheelbarrow, which were some of the most visually captivating and imaginative paintings of his career. The Wheelbarrow is estimated to value anywhere from HK$3 million to HK$4.7 million (€350,000 to €550,000).
Other notable works include the recognisable monochromatic art of Franz Kline, prodigious Chinese artists Zhang Daqian and Qi Baishi, along with celebrated artists Willem de Kooning, Jacques Lipchitz, Xu Shiqi and Isamu Noguchi.
A selection of the artworks will be exhibited first in Paris from 13 to 17 September, before moving onto Hong Kong and Los Angeles in October. Thereafter, the full collection will be on view in early November in New York, before sales commence.
For more information about the collection and the upcoming auctions, visit Christie’s website here.