The beloved collection of I.M. and Eileen Pei heads to auction, estimated to bring in $25 million

The beloved collection of I.M. and Eileen Pei heads to auction, estimated to bring in $25 million
Eileen and I.M. Pei in Hong Kong, 1988. Photo: Courtesy Eileen and I.M. Pei Family Archive.
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I.M. Pei is easily one of the most important architects of the past 50 years, if not the last century. At 102, he passed away earlier this year in May just after his iconic glass pyramid at the Louvre turned 30. Pei was preceded in death by his wife of 72 years, Eileen, who passed away in 2014. During their life together, the couple collected a number of works by some of the artists they rubbed shoulders with, and in many cases, befriended. Now, their collection is headed to the auction block.

Bringing together both western and eastern artists in a unique and beautiful manner, the Pei’s collection will be sold through Christie’s at their New York, Hong Kong, and Paris locations across a number of sales. The collection grew out of the Pei’s eternal investment in the arts, which was reflected in I.M. Pei’s remark that ‘great artists need great clients.’ Their belief in supporting the arts was genuinely reflected in how they lived and who they associated with according to their daughter, Liane. In the press release for the auction, Liane reminisced on the people her parents kept company with. ‘No matter the country, they always seemed to have friends, many of whom were artists, architects, gallerists and museum directors, ready to welcome them,’ said Liane of her parents. ‘There was always a deep feeling of mutual respect, warmth and friendship.’

In total, 59 works will head to auction and Christie’s expects that in all, the sales will total around $25 million. Artists represented in the collection include Franz Kline, Zhang Daqian, Qi Baishi, Willem de Kooning, Henry Moore, Jacques Lipchitz, Xu Shiqi and Isamu Noguchi. Moreover, works by Barnett Newman, Jean Dubuffet, and Zao Wou-Ki will be highlights of the auctions. Newman’s Untitled 5, 1950 holds a presale estimate that is ‘in the region of US $5 million’ according the Christie’s while his Untitled 4, 1950 is priced in the neighbourhood of $8 million. Gifts to the Peis, these two works by Newman will be offered at a New York auction coming up in November. Dubuffet’s 1964 La Brouette (The Wheelbarrow) is estimated to bring in between $388,000 and $610,000, which will be offered at a sale in Paris. Last, but not least, Wou-Ki’s 27.3.70 from 1970 will also hit the auction block this November in Hong Kong and holds a pre-sale estimate between $4.8 million and $6.1 million.

‘My parents cherished these friendships,’ continued Liane in her statement about the relationships her parents forged with their artist friends. ‘Even when these friends were far away, however, it never felt like that. We lived with their art every day and so they were always present. In that respect, I believe my parents could not have been happier, as they found inspiration in, and were always surrounded by, their treasured friends.’ With the upcoming sale of their collection, this feeling of closeness might continue onto the next owner of their treasured works, but with the added knowledge that the Peis are close, too.