Record $500m Auction of Billionaire's Private Art Collection Kicks Off

A three month sale of rare artworks belonging to the late American billionaire A. Alfred Taubman began on Wednesday at Sotheby's auction house in New York.

Sotheby's is opening their autumn art auction season with the sale of Taubman's 500-lot art collection, having fought off rival auction house Christie's for the right to the sale.

The billionaire developer and philanthropist, who died in April this year aged 91, is a former owner of Sotheby's. He bought the auction house in 1983 and was chairman for 17 years during which time Taubman was fined $7.5 million dollars and spent 10 months in prison after being found guilty of colluding with Anthony Tennant, former chairman of Christie's, to price-fix commission fees charged to sellers.

In what will be the first of four all-day auctions, Wednesday's sale, titled "Masterpieces", comprises of 77 masterpieces from a range of world renowned artists, including Pablo Picasso, Van Gogh and Roy Lichtenstein. It includes four pieces by Cubist pioneer artist, Pablo Picasso, whose 1938 masterpiece "Femme Assise Sur Une Chaise" is expected to sell for between $25 million and $35 million—one of the highest estimate of the day.

Taubman's collection stretches from antiquity to contemporary art, and is estimated to sell for $500 million in total—the highest estimate ever for a private art collection sold at auction. If the collection sells at the estimated price, it will surpass the current record held by Yves Saint Laurent estate, which sold for $477 million with fees in February 2009.

After Wednesday's event, the sale will continue with another auction on Thursday, where modern and contemporary art will be sold, a sale of American art of November 18 and finally an auction of Taubman's Old Masters collection on January 27.