The estimates from the auction houses, coordinated through the local Dorotheum auction house, place the value of the collection at between €140 and €160 million, for a collection of modern art that has for the past 15 years drawn thousands of tourists to Klosterneuburg.
As the founder and owner of the heavily-indebted Baumaxx chain of home improvement stores, which have in the past 37 years grown to 158 stores in nine countries, Essl was an eclectic and enthusiastic modern art collector.
His collection was more than just a private hobby, as he engaged in curious schemes that involved running an art collector's fund, where he would encourage other collectors to invest in art, including an offer to buy back art at 150% of the value after 10 years.
With the downturn of business in the home improvement sector, Baumaxx now has debts that exceed €1 billion. As part of moves to protect creditors, the Austrian credit protection association (KSV) has recommended the sale of the collection.
Agnes and Karlheinz Essl / Frank Garzarolli © Sammlung Essl Privatstiftung
Earlier this year, Essl tried to sell his collection for €250m to the state of Austria, in order to save 4000 jobs of his staff. When the sale was rejected, Essl withdrew the offer.
With more than 1700 works, the collection is considered something of a mixed bag of contemporary artists, with only a few of the works appreciating significantly in value, and many declining.