The major spring sales at the lHôtel des Ventes
in Geneva will take place from 12 to 15 March 2012, with an overall estimate of CHF 2.5 million (Euro 2 million, USD 2.7 million).
Once again, Bernard Piguet is creating a sensation with the sale by auction of an exceptional collection: the estate of Countess Lillan Ahlefeldt-Laurvig, the sole legatee of Serge Lifar. Serge Lifar was one of the most celebrated dancers and choreographers of his era, embodying the renewal of French ballet from the beginning of the 1930s. He was born in Kiev on 15 April 1905 and died in Lausanne in 1986.
Bernard Piguet, director and chief auctioneer of the Hôtel des Ventes points out: « This collection, with an estimated value of more than one million francs (Euro 1 million, USD 1.5 million) includes not only major works of the artistic life of the 20th century, but also personal objects which the dancer kept with him throughout his life. ». At this auction collectors and aficionados can expect to find not only drawings by Picasso worth more than CHF 100,000 but also dedicated programmes (CHF 200), his travelling trunk (CHF 300) and his favourite little teddy bear (CHF 200).
Serge Lifar, who was Russian, devoted his life to dancing. He passionately defended this art form and played a big part in raising its international prestige. As a choreographer and master of ballet at the Paris Opera, he worked together with the leading artists of his century: stage set designers, writers and composers. His genius and his enthusiasm helped to raise dance to the rank of one of the leading art forms of its time.
The works from his collection presented at the Hôtel des Ventes are all closely linked to his ballets: stage sets, costumes, musical scores... They are signed Bakst, Alexandre Benois, Bérard, Bouchène, Brayer, Buffet, Chagall, Cocteau, Ernst, Gontcharova, Juan Gris, Léger, Maillol, Picabia, Picasso and Stravinsky, to mention only the most important among them.
The works of his friend and great admirer Jean Cocteau are especially worthy of attention. Lifar received them direct either from Cocteau or from Coco Chanel, with whom he had a strong complicity right to the end of his life. These works include the original drawings illustrating his book Opium (CHF 40,000-60,000), autograph manuscripts of major works such as Orphée (CHF 10,000-15,000), La Machine Infernale (CHF 10,000-15,000), L'Ange Heurtebise (CHF 6,000-9,000) and a notebook containing more than 40 sketches of his world tour with Marcel Khill (CHF 20,000-30,000). Cocteau also entrusted Lifar with several manuscript poems by Raymond Radiguet (CHF 8,000-12,000), the young prodigy of French literature who died at the age of 20 of typhoid fever after accompanying Cocteau on a tour.
Many lots in this collection relate to Russia , for which he had great affection because of his Russian background. Here we find works by Bakst, Larionov and Gontcharova, Prokofiev, Remizov, Schervachidze and Stravinsky, Tchelitchev. The items for sale also include Russian silverware, icons, miniatures, books and objets dart.
An exceptional set of 3,000 photos by this outstanding dancer and choreographer have been signed by the most famous names of the period such as Anthony, Doisneau, Man Ray, Anna Maria Heinrich, Serge Lido, the Harcourt studios, Lipnitzki, Piaz, Sasha, Vogue. Here we discover Serge Lifar immortalised in his art or next to the outstanding personalities of his age: Ingrid Bergmann, Marc Chagall, Coco Chanel, Charlie Chaplin, Jean Cocteau, Giorgio de Chirico, Aristide Maillol, Francis Poulenc, Jacques Prévert, Picasso, Paul Valéry, the Comte de Beaumont, the Marquis of Cuevas, Marie-Laure de Noailles
Several original musical scores composed by Georges Auric, Arthur Honegger, Francis Poulenc and Igor Stravinsky will also be on sale at the auction.
The rest of the week will be devoted to 1,500 lots in the Hôtel des Ventes seasonal auction. Amateurs will discover large silverware services, fine items of furniture from the French XVIIIth century, Swiss paintings, luxury leather goods and numerous jewels and watches of prestigious brands with estimated values of between CHF 500 and CHF 30,000. Still with the aim in mind of democratising sales by auction and making them accessible to a wider public, Bernard Piguet again proposes more than 600 quality lots under CHF 300.
The Ahlefeldt and Lifar collections
The estate of Countess Lillan Ahlefeldt-Laurvig is steeped in reminiscences of Serge Lifar. First married to the Danish Count Carl Ahlefeldt-Laurvig, the countess later joined the circles of the future King of Nepal and Vladimir of Russia before meeting Serge Lifar, the love of her life, in 1958. The couple were deeply and sincerely attached to each other. Lifar dedicated his last book, Les Mémoires dIcare, « to Countess Lillan Ahlefeldt-Laurvig, a heart of gold and a pure soul, my spiritual muse and faithful friend in all circumstances ». After the couple had lived together for almost 30 years, Lifar died in Lausanne in 1986. The countess inherited his collections and wrote him a farewell letter ending with the words: « Dearest Serge, in shade and in light, you were always a great seigneur, Lillan ».
Other objects belonging to Countess Ahlefedt include a very fine American and Austrian silverware set « Sécession Viennoise », a golden toiletry service and Art Nouveau vases signed Tiffany. For example there is a large Gorham cutlery set with tendril and flower motifs CHF 7,000-9,000. Also on sale are a rare Katana (Japanese sabre) of the XIXth century, netsukes, Inro, Japanese lacquerwork and screens, a collection of superb Indian miniatures from the collection of the Maharajah of Bikaner and a set of Chinese jades.
The Serge Lifar collection: the collection of a lifetime reflecting the history of the age
The life of Serge Lifar is inextricably linked with the history of dance and with the history of the XXth century. An avid collector, Lifar carefully kept all the evidence of his career and of his encounters: the unpublished photographs, drawings and documents presented at the Hôtel des Ventes, Geneva in March bear eloquent testimony to this.
Born in Kiev in 1905, Serge Lifar was first initiated into dance by Nijinsky's sister. He later fled Russia and moved first to Monaco and then to Diaghilevs Ballets Russes in Paris in 1923. Until 1929, Lifar was involved in almost all the productions of the Ballets Russes while continuing his training with some of the best teachers of the period such as Enrico Cecchetti.
A marvellous dancer of incredible, almost ethereal beauty, Lifar was universally admired for his lithe grace, his amazing technical skill and his powerful presence. He rapidly became the first dancer of the Ballets Russes in the role of Borée in Zéphyr et Flore (1925). The photographs presented in the sale immortalise these moments with images of stunning beauty and quality. The energy and vitality evident in these photographs give invaluable insights into the dancer's extraordinary talent. One of the photographs is signed Man Ray and represents Lifar in the costume of Roméo, a rôle he played in the ballet Roméo et Juliette.
The dancer also kept photographs of Diaghilev, who introduced him to the world of art, culture and beauty. In his ballets, Diaghilev enlisted the services of avant-garde artists and thus helped to establish their reputation. For Roméo et Juliette in 1926, he asked Max Ernst and Joan Miró to produce the costumes and the stage sets. The Hôtel des Ventes of Geneva will be auctioning an oil painting entitled Sun, 1926 , which was Max Ernsts (1891-976) design for the stage set of this ballet (CHF 100,000-150,000).
In August 1929, Diaghilev died and the Ballets Russes ceased to exist. Serge Lifar felt that he was still too young to run the ballet company and to dance at the same time. At the request of Jacques Rouché, director of the Paris Opera, Lifar joined the prestigious French institution to create the choreography of the Créatures de Prométhée. This was a triumph. Lifar was applauded both for his work as a choreographer and for his performance as a dancer. That very evening Rouché appointed him maître de ballet and primo ballerino of the Opera. This was the start of a marvellous career for the young dancer.
Until 1958, Lifar was the undisputed master of the Paris Opera, apart from a period of two years which he spent in Monaco , where he established the Nouveau Ballet of Monte-Carlo. He breathed new life into the institution, and his troupe became one of the best in the world. Lifar trained new young stars, initiated soirées exclusively dedicated to ballet, organised lectures, founded the University of Dance, etc. He even created a new style: the neo-classical or Lifarian style. During this period he choreographed and danced in 98 ballets. One of his greatest successes was Icare in 1935, a rôle which led to him being awarded the title of star dancer, an epithet that until then had been the exclusive preserve of ballerinas. Lifar continued to perform rôles that had been created for the Ballets Russes. The leading photographers (already mentioned above) vied with each other to present shots of his performances in newspapers.
Lifars dazzling career raised him to the status of a true idol of dance. He was known by « Tout-Paris » and met many of the outstanding personalities of the XXth century. His personal collection of more than 3000 photographs, which will shortly be presented at the Hôtel des Ventes, retraces his extraordinary career. Many of them show Lifar together with Cocteau, Coco Chanel, Maillol, Chagall, Picasso, Prévert, as well as with figures from the world of cinema such as Ingrid Bergman and Charlie Chaplin, or accompanied by political personalities such as General de Gaulle and President Georges Pompidou. Royalty is also represented in the shape of Prince Rainier III of Monaco , Grace Kelly and H.R.H the Aga Khan.
A tireless collector, Serge Lifar disposed of a large part of his collections in auctions in Monaco , Paris and London . However, until the end of his life he kept almost all of these photographs as well as many drawings, regarding them not only as valuable items but as an integral part of himself.
Serge Lifar and his contemporaries
For his ballets and his personal collection, Lifar surrounded himself with the leading artists of his time such as Georges Auric, Léon Bakst, Christian Bérard, Alexandre Benois, Bernard Buffet, Marc Chagall, Jean Cocteau, Mikhaïl Larionov, Natalia Gontcharova, Juan Gris, Fernand Léger, Aristide Maillol, Francis Picabia, Pablo Picasso and Francis Poulenc. Lifar formed friendships with these artists, keeping copies of their works, often autographed and dedicated. These works are now being presented for sale at the Hôtel des Ventes of Geneva by Bernard Piguet. Many of these works bear Serge Lifars personal stamp, which is incontrovertible evidence of their authenticity.
In his ballets the « choreo-author » regularly worked with Natalia Gontcharova (1881-1962), who was also of Russian origin. Lifar kept several water colours by her (CHF 6,000-8,000) as well as a magnificent wooden model (CHF 30,000-50,000). They are dated 1943 and were created for the stage set of the ballet Chota Roustaveli.
Lifar was given several works by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), which are also dedicated to him. On 29 August 1962, the master of cubism dedicated « to Serge Lifar » a pastel of the « Fall of Icarus » (CHF 60,000-80,000) and « Lifar as Icarus » (CHF 80,000-120,000), both of which had been part of the stage set for this ballet at the Paris Opera. The artist also offered an ink and gouache « cubist composition with guitar and partitions » to his friend Lifar estimated at CHF 70,000-90,000.
Works by Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) are among the major items in Lifars collection. The poet and the dancer often worked together. Cocteau produced many posters, programmes and stage sets for the choreographer. He wrote the part of Oedipus in La Machine infernale (1932) for Lifar. In the end Lifar did not play this part but he did receive an original manuscript of the work (CHF 12,000-18,000) as well as a typescript with fewer deletions (CHF 10,000-15,000). A manuscript of Orphée (CHF 10,000-15,000) was also discovered in the collection, together with LAnge Heurtebise (CHF 6,000-9,000), which the author considered one of his best poems.
Cocteaus drawings also represent an exceptional discovery. Lifar kept 40 original drawings of Opium, an essay illustrated by Cocteau in 1929 (CHF 40,000-60,000), as well as an unpublished notebook containing more than 35 pencil portraits of Marcel Khill sleeping. Cocteau produced this notebook during a visit to Honolulu on his world tour with Marcel Khill in 1936. It is signed and annotated and contains references to the artists meeting with Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard. The notebook is entitled « Illness of Passepartout on the Coolidge, Drawings, Jean » (a reference to Jules Vernes character, the valet Passepartout in the novel Around the World in 80 Days) and is estimated at CHF 20,000-30,000.
Other highlights of the major sales in 2012:
The major spring auction at the Hôtel des Ventes will bring together almost 2,000 lots of silverware, antique furniture, Art Nouveau, Art Déco, carpets, luxury leatherware, jewels and watches. One outstanding item among the fine pieces of furniture of the XVIIIth century is a large curved commode of the transition period attributed to Nicolas Petit (CHF 10,000-15,000). Louis Vuitton travelling trunks estimated at CHF 4,000-6,000 and a Bolide bag in crocodile Hermès (CHF 5,000-8,000) are the stand-out items in the session reserved for luxury leatherware.
At the Thursday sale, the most prestigious brands of jewels and watches will be on display: Boucheron, Bulgari, Cartier, Chopard, Hermès, Hublot, Tiffany, Patek Philippe, Rolex, Vacheron Constantin. The steel bracelet watch « Royal Oak » by Audemars Piguet (CHF 8,000-12,000) is the outstanding item in this lot, together with the Hublot « Big Bang » in gold, rubber and diamonds (CHF 10000-15,000). Devotees of precious stones will be regaled with a fine selection of emeralds, rubies, sapphires and diamonds.