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Art Market

Auction highlights – an Al Thani treasure trove comes up for sale in Paris

7 October 2022

Apollo’s new, fortnightly auction preview casts an eye over the most interesting works and collections coming up in the salesrooms.

The Hôtel Lambert has, over the centuries, played host to the political salons of the Marquise du Châtelet and her lover, Voltaire; under the ownership of the Princes Czartoryski, it welcomed Balzac, George Sand and Delacroix, and was called by Chopin his favourite place to play the piano. Even before you get into the exploits of the notorious party animal and former resident the Baron de Redé – whose Oriental Ball in 1969, at which Brigitte Bardot cavorted around as an odalisque while Salvador Dalí and Christian Dior each wore a costume designed by the other, has been counted among the most fantastic bashes of the century – this hôtel particulier on the Île Saint-Louis has led perhaps a more colourful life than any other townhouse in Paris.

The Hôtel Lambert in Paris. Photo: courtesy Sotheby’s

The Hôtel Lambert in Paris. Photo: courtesy Sotheby’s

Its most recent owner, the Qatari prince Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al Thani and his family bought the property in 2007 and have since supervised an extensive restoration. This has not been without its controversies – plans for the installation of an elevator and underground car-park raised the eyebrows of French conservationists, while a fire in 2013 severely damaged frescoes by Eustache Le Sueur and Charles Le Brun – but the project, overseen by architect Alain-Charles Perrot, now the president of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, has been widely deemed a success, sensitive to the demands of the UNESCO-listed site while achieving modernisations necessary to secure its longevity. Sheikh Al Thani also commissioned interior decorator Alberto Pinto to shop around for antiques that might live up to the example of the surroundings. It is a job which, if the evidence of Sotheby’s five-part sale in Paris this month is anything to go by, Pinto took to with aplomb.

The result is a lesson in lavishness (and perhaps what can be achieved with an unlimited budget), taking in furniture, painting, sculpture and just about every sort of objet d’art prized by both royalty and celebrity. There are works here that speak to the earliest origins of the building, which was designed by Louis Le Vau, Louis XIV’s favoured architect, for the financier Jean-Baptiste Lambert in the 1640s. A pair of porphyry vases, made in Rome in the late 17th century, reveal the influence of Charles Le Brun in the design of the plaited-haired women whose visages are carved in relief on the front (est. €1m–€2m). Yet, rather like the varied visitors the hôtel once attracted, the star-power of the provenance pulled in here extends from far beyond 17th-century France.

Porphyry vase (one of pair; c. 1680–1710), Rome. Sotheby's Paris (est. €1m–€2m)

Porphyry vase (one of a pair; c. 1680–1710), Rome. Sotheby’s Paris (est. €1m–€2m)

Catherine the Great’s dinner service (est. €700,000–€1m), and a candelabra used by Madame de Pompadour at the chateau de Bellevue add to the lustre. An intriguing set of Limoges grisaille enamels includes an oval dish (c. 1570–75), with a painted scene depicting the Judgement of Moses, that was once part of the collection assembled by Yves Saint Laurent (est. €200,000–€300,000) and a pair of George III armchairs, produced during the famous collaboration between Robert Adam and Thomas Chippendale for Lawrence Dundas (€600,000–€1m). Deemed surplus to the House of Thani’s requirements after the sale of the hôtel earlier this year, reportedly to French telecoms magnate Xavier Niel for more than €200m, the entire sale is slated to bring in, at a low estimate, around €50m.

Dish with the Judgement of Moses (c. 1570–75), attributed to Pierre Reymond. Sotheby’s Paris (est. €200,000–€300,000)

Dish with the Judgement of Moses (c. 1570–75), attributed to Pierre Reymond. Sotheby’s Paris (est. €200,000–€300,000)

London next week feels a world away from all this opulence, as the sales, timed to coincide with Frieze, look to attract a rather different clientele. Lily Cole has starred in Sotheby’s marketing for its London sales, with its contemporary offering, ‘Now’ led by market darlings such as Jadé Fadojutimi, Flora Yukhnovich and Banksy (who else?); at its ‘Contemporary Art Evening Sale’, it is at once crazy to think and entirely conceivable that the entire takings of the Lambert collection will be surpassed by a single Francis Bacon triptych, Three Studies for portrait of Henrietta Moraes (1963), which has until recently hung on MoMA’s walls. It carried an estimate that has been reported as being in excess of £30m.

Catered (2017), Caroline Walker. Christie's, London (est. £100,000–£150,000

Catered (2017), Caroline Walker. Christie’s, London (est. £100,000–£150,000). Photo: Christie’s Images Ltd. 2022

Over at Christie’s, meanwhile, the ‘20th/21st Century Evening Sale’ is led by an extremely pink David Hockney landscape, Early Morning, Sainte-Maxime (est. £7m–£10m). But the most captivating painting in the sale is Caroline Walker’s Catered (est. £100,000–£150,000); part of her series of Night Scenes (2017) depicting lone female figures, this work shows a woman, with her back to the viewer and cast into shadow by the bright electric lights of the kitchen counter at which she is working late into the night. One of Walker’s most austerely realised and psychologically mysterious depictions of work in the services industries, it stands as a salutary reminder of the kinds of lives that lie behind the glittering parties and dinners that once illuminated the Hôtel Lambert, or that are currently filling up diaries in London.