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Resounding success for the Library of R. & B. L. at Sotheby's, world record for La Prose du Transsibérie
Many of these highly desirable volumes are personalized with artists' dedications, some accompanied by original drawings. Photo: Sotheby's.

PARIS.- Sotheby’s new auction season got off to a triumphant start as the sale of a unique 189-lot collection, staged in association with Binoche & Giquello, yielded €4.5 million ($6 million) against a total pre-sale estimate of €2.4-3.4 million ($3.3-4.6 million), making it one of the most successful sales of Books & Manuscripts ever held by Sotheby’s Paris.

The results of this magnificent sale, featuring many of the 20th century’s greatest artists, including Picasso, Matisse and Sonia and Robert Delaunay, underlined the collectors’ exceptional connoisseurship and taste.

In the words of sale expert Yves Lebouc of Bouquinerie de l'Institut: ‘This library, with all its carefully chosen volumes, exceptional bindings and dedications from authors and great artists, is without doubt one of the finest collections of illustrated modern books to have appeared on the market in the last five years.’

Auctioneer Alexandre Giquello declared it ‘a real pleasure to direct a sale of such quality, uniting for the first time five of the earliest books ever illustrated by Picasso.’

And Anne Heilbronn, Vice-President of Sotheby’s France and Head of the Books & Manuscripts Department, was ‘thrilled by the record price for a unique copy of La Prose du Transsibérien, whose fresh colours and magical binding aroused tremendous enthusiasm among collectors.’

It was indeed La Prose du Transsibérien de Blaise Cendrars (1913) which aroused the sale’s highest price of €312,750 /$418.234 (lot 38, estimate €40,000-60,000). This icon of 20th century publishing, illustrated by Sonia Delaunay, accompanied by its feuillet d’annonce, and with a magnificent mosaic binding by Paul Bonet, exceeded the price obtained in November 2011 by Sotheby’s Paris for a rare copy on Japon dedicated to Abel Gance (€288,750).

The market again confirmed the incredible appeal of Picasso to bibliophiles. The artist was at the heart of the collection with 32 books illustrated between 1905 and 1960. The most fiercely contested was Honoré de Balzac’s Le Chef-d’Œuvre Inconnu (1931), containing 13 Picasso etchings and an extraordinary original ink drawing from 1944, signed by the artist. The copy also came with a handwritten dedication, signed and dated the same day, Pour Raymond Goulier son ami Picasso. Paris 26 juin 1944. Bidding surged past the €150,000 top-estimate to €186,750 / $249.737 (lot 143).

The collection included Les Poèmes by André Salmon, the book containing Picasso’s first book illustration in 1905, with a very rare initial proof for his etching Les 2 Saltimbanques. The copy offered for sale was one of just 25 copies (n°22), in large format, and on Hollande, with the author’s monogram in ink, and one of the very few with a superb, original dry-point etching by Picasso on Japon of which only a dozen copies are known. Bidding soared to €168,750 / $225.666 (lot 131, est. €80,000-120,000).

Max Jacob’s Le Cornet à Dés, published in 1917, containing the remarkable engraving L’Arlequin included solely in the first 14 copies, cleared its €120,000 top estimate on €156,750 / $209.619 (lot 134).

Other 20th century masters in the sale included Henri Matisse, with a moving album of preparatory drawings charting his creative process (1930), which climbed to €105,750 / $140.615 (est. €50,000-70,000); and Robert Delaunay, with his magnificent personal copy of Apollinaire’s Les Fenêtres (1912), with author’s dedication and an original Robert Delaunay gouache (1925), that sold for €144,750 / $193.571 (lot 34, est. €40,000-60,000).

Illustration was not the only appeal of the collection. There were many wonderful bindings: Max Ernst’s masterpiece Maximiliana (1964) in an elegant binding by Pierre-Lucien Martin, realized €84,750 / $113.334. This splendid edition is illustrated with 34 original coloured etchings by Max Ernst, six of them double-page plates (lot 59, est. €50,000-70,000).

Apollinaire’s Les Calligrammes, with a sumptuous black, grey and white boxwood binding designed by Leroux in 1988, fetched €82,350 /$110.125 (lot 31, est. €50,000-70,000). The book was illustrated by De Chirico in 1930, and this particular copy comes embellished with an original, signed drawing by him. Mercher’s sparkling 1960 black morocco binding for A Toute Epreuve by Paul Eluard, with alternating mosaic-work of different types of rare wood, and illustrated by 80 original coloured wood engravings by Joan Miró in 1958, yielded the sale’s second-highest price of €228,750 / $305.903 (lot 121, est. €40,000-60,000).

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