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Sotheby's and Pierre Bergé & Associés unveil the full contents of the sale of the Collection of Pierre Bergé
Antoine Jean, Baron Gros, David playing harp for king Saul or David charming Saul's melancholy. Oil on canvas, 72½ x 89⅜ in. Estimate: 100.000 – 150.000 €. Courtesy Sotheby's.

PARIS.- From 29 to 31 October 2018, Sotheby’s France, which has a new exhibition space, will host an important event in the art market calendar. Sotheby’s and Pierre Bergé & Associés will have the honour of conducting the sale of the contents of Pierre Bergé’s last residences. The sale of this unique collection of works chosen by Pierre Bergé, many of which were acquired with Yves Saint Laurent, will take place over three days, and offer almost 1,000 lots reflecting the diverse passions of this refined man and of the people with whom he shared his life. While a small selection of highlights from Pierre Bergé’s collection was unveiled this summer, now for the first time, the full scope of “Pierre Bergé: D’une demeure l’autre” is revealed.

Pierre Bergé was a committed philanthropist and wanted a portion of the proceeds from this auction and from the sale of other items to benefit the Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent in Paris and the Fondation Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech.

In the homes he created with Yves Saint Laurent, Bergé surrounded himself with art and decorative objects: four interiors, each with its own identity. The sale at Sotheby’s, which will open for public viewing on 25 October, will serve as an homage to these places, recreating the unique atmosphere of each one.

Madison Cox: “All these places had their own strong personality that reflected the enthusiasm and diverse passions of their owner. Each residence had a particular character and setting, be it in Paris, New York, Provence or Morocco.”

The Paris townhouse, formerly the residence of Marshal Hubert Lyautey and Edouard Manet, was decorated by François-Joseph Graff as well as the Milanese interior designers Roberto Peregalli and Laura Sartori. It was transformed into a timeless, peaceful retreat and housed many beautiful objects.

“I’ve started bringing furniture to Rue Bonaparte. Much of it comes from Rue de Babylone, such as the “Chanel” couch that you had made for the small salon, the Senufo bird sculpture, the sconces and marble columns from the dining room, the Louis XIV medallion that I had at the Île Saint-Louis. (…) You can’t imagine how reassured I feel to live surrounded by these things that belonged to us, which have been so familiar for many years, and which remind me of you.” Pierre Bergé, Lettres à Yves, 2010.

Bergé and Saint Laurent had La Datcha built on the estate of Château Gabriel, a 19th-century neo-gothic mansion in Normandy. Designer Jacques Grange created the interior inspired by the Ballets Russes and Léon Bakst.

Mas Théo in Saint-Rémy, Provence, was also designed by Grange. It was surrounded by Provence-style gardens filled with many species of plants and trees, linking one house to the next, one atmosphere to the next.

At Villa Mabrouka in Tangiers, once again decorated by Grange, in 2008 and again in 2017, Bergé created a secret garden where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic. Of all the homes shared by Bergé and Saint Laurent, this beautiful building overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar symbolised the confluence of the pair’s respective origins: Oran for Saint Laurent and Saint-Pierre-d’Oléron for Bergé.

This sale will be followed by the fourth session in the series, devoted to the contents of Bergé’s library, on 14 December 2018 at Drouot. It will feature an array of books and manuscripts dating from the 15th to the 20th century.

“These are simply the paintings of our life together, the paintings he gave me. […] They have never left me since those days.” 2

Central to Bergé’s collection are 12 paintings by Bernard Buffet that mark the two men’s intense shared history in the 1950s and reflect a watershed period in Buffet’s style and painting. These canvases therefore have a unique history. All except two were given by the artist to Bergé, his companion for eight years between 1950 and 1958. Most are signed on the back with the words “À Pierre Bergé”.

The works were kept by Bergé until his death. They were recently loaned to two important exhibitions on Buffet: the retrospective at the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris, in 2016, and Bernard Buffet, la collection Pierre Bergé at the Musée Estrine in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.

The paintings now offered for sale by Sotheby’s were for Bergé a remarkable overview of Buffet’s greatness. Bergé admired Buffet’s many talents: the infallible draughtsman who painted in a “modern” style while finding inspiration in the old masters; the artist who, after the great painters of previous centuries, produced pared-back still lifes, and the painter of figures with haggard bodies and faces from memory.

“This Bœuf écorché is extraordinary! It’s a truly great piece of painting, a challenge he set himself and mastered perfectly. He was evidently thinking of Rembrandt, he was evidently thinking of Soutine, one of the rare painters of his time whom he held in esteem. […] There is evidently a precision in Buffet’s painting that does not exist with Soutine.” Pierre Bergé 3

This brilliant piece was painted by Bernard Buffet in 1954. Although the theme was not new to him, it is the first example of Buffet paying a direct tribute to Rembrandt’s masterpiece, both in its framing and in its use of palette (estimate: €200,000-400,000).

Buffet’s studio as depicted in L’Atelier, painted in 1956, appears to differ greatly from Bergé’s description of it as he recalls: “It was absolute chaos! The studio was very dirty because he never wanted it cleaned. He didn’t even want anyone to enter.” 4 L’Atelier reflects the artist’s desire to immerse himself in the tradition of studio painting and more widely in that of genre painting (estimate: €80,000-120,000).

Autoportrait sur fond noir takes up the classic device of representing the painter at his easel. For this piece, Buffet was inspired by the great figures in the history of painting (estimate: €100,000-150,000).

One of the most moving aspects of this work, aside from its stylistic and formal aspects, is its dedication to Bergé, a touching testimony to a creative and passionate relationship that left a lasting impression on the life of both men. “In effect, Bernard and I experienced a complicity in every moment,” Bergé recalled. 5

Nature morte à la sole, 1952, depicts a frugal repast. It could not be further from the opulence and vigour of Flemish canvases. The work has far more in common with the concision and austerity of the 17th-century Spanish masters. In Buffet’s still lifes in general, the starkness is voluntary, accentuated by the negation of perspective and volume. Nonetheless, Buffet’s piece has a rare sumptuousness (estimate: €100,000-€150,000).

Also for sale will be an exceptional group of Orientalist paintings chosen by Bergé for his house in Paris. La porte du sérail, souvenir du Caire exhibited by JeanJules-Antoine Lecomte du Noüy at the Salon in 1877 is one of the artist’s most ambitious, accomplished works. Remarkable for both its complex composition and richness of detail, it combines a technical perfection reminiscent of Ingres with a photographic realism worthy of Gérôme (estimate: €400,000-600,000).

The Palace Guard, 1888, in which Ludwig Deutsch employed a particularly rich and harmonious colour palette, unites meticulous detail with precision in the guard’s expression, both defiant and distant. This gift of observation and exact rendering made Deutsch one of the most important Orientalist painters (estimate: €300,000-500,000).

The collection also includes a magnificent canvas by Baron Gros, commissioned by Louis Philippe in 1821 when he was Duke of Orléans, for his gallery at the Palais Royal. This exceptional canvas, David jouant de la harpe pour le roi Saül, from the Romantic period, heralds the birth of Orientalism with its colours (estimate: €100,000-150,000).

The extraordinary friendship between the Lalannes and Saint Laurent and Bergé started in the 1960s. In 1965, François-Xavier Lalanne designed a bar for Yves Saint Laurent, and in 1966 Pierre Bergé wrote a favourable review of his friends’ exhibition at the Alexandre Iolas gallery. In 1969, for his autumnwinter collection, Saint Laurent invited Claude Lalanne to create human body casts to adorn his chiffon gowns. Over the years, Bergé and Saint Laurent continued to commission work by the Lalannes for their different homes.

A monumental bronze mirror produced in 1999 by Claude Lalanne was commissioned for the living room of Villa Mabrouka in Tangiers. This unique piece, inscribed with the letters Y.S.L. on one side, is estimated at between €200,000 and €300,000. The table centrepiece in the form of a duck surrounded by water lilies and six candleholders, by François-Xavier Lalanne, was displayed on the dining table in Bergé’s Paris house. This version in bronze and Sèvres biscuit porcelain was made in 1978 based on a 1972 model (estimate: €200,000-300,000).

Bergé and Saint Laurent were at the forefront of the Art Deco revival in the 1960s. When pieces by Ruhlmann or Frank resurfaced, one needed an attentive sensibility to acquire objects from a style that had fallen out of favour, like these two pieces dating from 1925, bought for Rue Bonaparte: a screen made up of six straw marquetry panels by Jean-Michel Frank (estimate: €25,000-35,000), and a set of eight Palette armchairs by Emile Jacques Ruhlmann (estimate: €40,000-60,000).

Bergé amassed a stunning collection of objects. His taste was eclectic and spanned civilisations, eras and genres. There were many art objects alongside the paintings: pieces from Antiquity, Renaissance enamels, ivories and African masks could be found in his various residences.

A marble medallion featuring a profile of Louis XIV dating from the 18th century, which Bergé kept in Paris, was one of the first pieces he acquired with Saint Laurent. It will also be the first lot in the sale (estimate: €6,000-8,000). Masque, a unique work in painted canvas, made by Pablo Picasso in 1961 in Cannes, is one of the few pieces by the Spanish artist in the collection (estimate: €60,000-80,000). Le Christ en buste de face and La Vierge en buste tournée de trois-quarts are two brilliant examples of the work of the French Renaissance enameller Léonard Limosin, circa 1554. They are estimated at €40,000 and €60,000, respectively.

The collection includes a magnificent set of memento mori pieces, symbolising the transitory nature of life and the inevitability of death without regard to age, sex or condition. Bergé acquired his first memento mori pieces in 2008, after the death of Saint Laurent. The unstoppable march of time leading man to his end takes on even more meaning with the death of a loved-one (estimate: roughly €2,000-8,000).

A lover of all types of art, Bergé amassed a fine collection of some 40 African masks. Among the outstanding examples is a gyè mask from Ivory Coast. Gyè masks blend the human face with animal attributes and are the best known of the Yauré masks. In this superbly mastered carving, the artist surmounts the delicate face with two long elegant horns. The perfect balance of lines is accentuated by the contrast between the minimalism of the features and the richness of the delicately carved attributes, representing the pinnacle of this aesthetic that influenced the art of the neighbouring Baulé people (estimate: €8,000-12,000).

The Baulé portrait mask from Ivory Coast is deliberately designed to represent a particular person. It is one of the most astonishing creations of the Baulé. The accuracy of the features, the expression and ornamentation are a remarkable testament to one of the oldest forms of Baulé art (estimate: €8,000-12,000).

The Lega ivory mask from the Democratic Republic of the Congo is significant because of its rarity but also its provenance, having previously belonged to the Charles Ratton collection. Destined only for members of the Bwami, it was not used by all Lega clans. The minimalism of the carving is complemented by the superb intensity of the face, and its fullness. Its size and the care taken in making it recall the rare ivory masquettes that belonged to the ritual leaders (estimate: €3,000-5,000).

On 14 December, the fourth sale dedicated to the contents of Pierre Bergé’s personal library will offer an array of books and manuscripts dating from the 15th to the 20th century. While literature makes up the lion’s share, bibliophiles will find volumes relating to other fields such as philosophy, botany and garden design, as well as a number of illustrated works such as Le Propriétaire des choses, published in Lyon in 1486.

Bergé’s unique personality is perhaps revealed in even greater detail than before through his books from friends – Jean Cocteau, Jean Giono, Bernard Buffet – as well as those that reflect his political beliefs, such as L’Encyclopédie anarchiste by Sébastien Faure, given to the young Bergé by Fauré’s widow in memory of the militant author.

1 Pierre Bergé, Lettres à Yves, Gallimard, 2010
2 & 3 Pierre Bergé (Jérôme Coignard, Bernard Buffet. Les années 50. Entretiens avec Pierre Bergé, 2016)
4 & 5 Pierre Bergé (Jérôme Coignard, Bernard Buffet. Les années 50. Entretiens avec Pierre Bergé, 2016)

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