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Sotheby’s to sell collection of former owner Alfred Taubman

Auction of works owned by tycoon, who went to prison for price-fixing scandal, may be the most valuable private collection ever to hit the block

Sotheby’s plans to auction the collection of its one-time owner, A. Alfred Taubman, who died earlier this year of a heart attack, aged 91. It is estimated to be the most valuable private collection ever to come to auction and is expected to sell in excess of $500m. More than 500 works from antiquities to contemporary art will be offered in a series of four sales beginning this autumn in New York.

Taubman was a self-made shopping mall tycoon who bought Sotheby’s in 1983 for $125m, after it had hit hard times. The son of German Jewish immigrants, Taubman was credited with injecting the sleepy auction house with some entrepreneurial pizzazz, transforming it from a stuffy private club into a dynamic international business.

But his reputation was marred after a conviction by a federal jury in 2001 of colluding to fix prices with Sir Anthony Tennant, his counterpart at rival firm Christie’s. Taubman was fined $7.5m and sentenced to ten months in prison. In his 2007 memoir, Threshold Resistance, he wrote of the ordeal: “I had lost a chunk of my life, my good name and around 27 pounds.” (Tennant was also indicted but refused to travel from England to New York for trial and so was never charged.)

The first sale from Taubman’s collection, titled Masterworks, is expected to be a spending extravaganza. Offerings in the 4 November auction include three works estimated to sell for between $25m and $35m each: Picasso’s Femme Assise Sur une Chaise (1938); Willem de Kooning’s Untitled XXI (1976); and Modigliani’s Portrait de Paulette Jourdain (around 1919). Other notable lots include two paintings by Mark Rothko estimated to sell for between $20m and $30m each: the 1952 Untitled (Lavender and Green), and No. 6 / Sienna, Orange on Wine (1962).

The second sale will be dedicated to Modern and Contemporary art, taking place during the day on 5 November before Sotheby’s regularly scheduled Impressionist and Modern evening auction. The third, a daytime event on 18 November, will focus on Taubman’s collection of American art. Finally, an evening sale of Old Master works is scheduled for 27 January 2016.

“The upcoming auctions will unveil Alfred’s extraordinary taste across periods and genres,” says Simon Shaw, the co-head of Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art department. “The Taubman name will join such storied American collections as Ford, Gould, Dorrance, Havemeyer and Thannhauser, whose provenance lies behind a number of the works we are presenting for sale.”

Taubman sold his controlling interest in Sotheby’s in 2005, though he maintained the other businesses in his empire, which included shopping centres and the A&W root beer company.

The legendary impresario was also a major benefactor, donating millions of dollars to health, education and the arts over the years. Proceeds from the Sotheby’s sales will be used to settle estate tax obligations and to fund the A. Alfred Taubman Foundation. According to a spokesman for the estate: “His family is committed to continuing Mr. Taubman’s philanthropic tradition.”