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Inside the Collection of Jean-François and Marie-Aline Prat

Marie-Aline Prat reveals the passion and philosophy behind her superb collection of 20th-century art, assembled with her late husband, Jean-François Prat. More than 200 works by artists such as Basquiat, Polke, Stella, Klein and Dubuffet are to be offered in Paris on 20 and 21 October

Comprising more than 200 works, including pieces by some of the most important artists of the 20th century, the exceptional collection assembled by Jean-François and Marie-Aline Prat is a testament to their shared passion for modern, post-war and contemporary art. 

‘Generally speaking there is one guiding thread in my collection,’ explains Marie-Aline Prat. ‘It is very much about the question of appearance and disappearance, of unity and multiplicity.’

The collection reveals a sustained attraction to artists who explored the limits of painting, from Robert Ryman to Bertrand Lavier, Lucio Fontana to Simon Hantaï, James Bishop to Martin Barré. Even when the collection ventures into photography or sculpture, it reflects the same preference for what is suggested rather than what is stated, the underlying rather than the visible.


‘Works by Basquiat converse with Dubuffet, Klein with Stella, Ryman with Lavier… These original, fertile associations make this auction one of the highlights of 2017’ — Paul Nyzam

‘French collections of this quality can be counted on one hand,’ says Paul Nyzam, head of evening sales at Christie’s Paris. The couple took care to link French artists to their European and American peers. ‘Works by Jean-Michel Basquiat converse with Jean Dubuffet,’ Nyzam continues. ‘Yves Klein with Frank Stella, Ryman with Lavier, Fontana with Hantaï and even Barré with Peter Halley. These original, fertile associations make this auction one of the highlights of 2017.’

Among the major works to be offered is Jim Crow, a monumental 1986 masterpiece by Basquiat, which has not been seen publicly in France since 1993. At once political and autobiographical, Jim Crow  is an outstanding example of the painter at the peak of his powers.

‘I remember my encounter with this amazing picture as if it were yesterday, at the La Seita Gallery and Museum in 1993,’ says Marie-Aline Prat. ‘It was hanging at the back, in sight of the central aisle. I went straight to it, fascinated, then overwhelmed by emotion. It was so incredible that I cried.

‘Even today, what strikes me in Jim Crow  is the absolute mastery — almost classical — of the work. In 1993, what was praised above all was Basquiat’s expressionist power. The underground culture appropriated it, but Basquiat freed himself, earning the incontrovertible label of 20th-century “genius”. It is with great sadness that I am now parting with such a powerful work.’

Another highlight, Sigmar Polke’s 1982 Was machen die Russen in Mexico, exemplifies the creative brilliance and irreverence of the German artist whose work was until recently appreciated by only a few French collectors.

‘When we acquired this work in 1999,’ Marie-Aline Prat explains, ‘my husband and I were convinced that Polke was as important as Richter, although Richter was much better known. When we left for the Cologne International Art Fair that year, we had already decided to buy a work by Polke.’ Luck was on their side. ‘This is a major picture that we literally snatched up as soon as the fair opened its doors.’

The sale will be divided into two sessions (Evening and Day sales), with a preview exhibition from 14 to 21 October at the Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild in Paris.