Paul Destribats (1926-2017) was one of the greatest book collectors of his generation. His collection of more than 6,000 volumes, manuscripts and printed documents covering the 20th-century avant-garde is one of the finest to ever come to market.
The collection offers an encyclopaedic overview of the diverse strands of the European, American, and even Asiatic avant-garde movements, and boasts works by some of its foremost writers, poets and artists, including Man Ray, Tristan Tzara, Francis Picabia, Marcel Duchamp and Pablo Picasso. The core of the collection, however, is formed by the work of André Breton, the leader and principal theorist of Surrealism.
Selected works from the collection of Paul Destribats were offered by Christie’s Paris, in association with Librarie Jean-Baptiste de Proyart and specialist Claude Oterelo, in July 2019. After three days of live sales, Bibliothèque Paul Destribats — Part I achieved €8,116,812.
Further works from the collection will be offered in two sales at Christie’s in 2020. The first, Paul Destribats — Bibliothèque des avants-gardes — Part II, will present an important group of more than 250 works published by Pierre André Benoit (PAB) and Ilia Zdanevitch (Iliazd), two major Surrealist publishers of the 20th century.
Among the important works coming to auction this February are a proof copy of Guillaume de Vaux’s La Maigre (above), which contains working proof engravings by Picasso, as well as handwritten notes by the Georgia-born book designer and publisher Iliazd; and a first edition of Max Ernst’s Maximiliana, ou, l'exercice illégal de l'astronomie (1964).
The latter was a collaboration between Iliazd and Ernst, a primary exponent of the Dada movement. The title of the book refers to an asteroid discovered in 1861 by the German philosopher Ernst Wilhelm Tempel. Ernst’s text and aquatints pay homage to Tempel’s mission to explore domains outside of ordinary human perception.
Further highlights include Pierre André Benoit’s Autre chose (1956), which features an engraving, second state, in blue and black by Picasso; and a first edition of De moment en moment (1957) by René Char, which is illustrated with two original signed prints by Joan Miró.
While many of the books in this collection come complete with original artist illustrations, what is particularly exciting, says Paris-based book expert Jean-Baptiste Proyart, ‘is the fact that many of these artists created new images [for these works] that nobody had ever seen before. They invented a new way of combining paintings, books and engravings, which was something very unique’.
Leading July’s section of works was one such example: a first-edition copy of La Barre d’appui (below), a volume of poems by Paul Eluard, illustrated with engravings by Picasso of Nusch, the love of the poet’s life, and to whom this edition is dedicated. The work soared past its high estimate of €150,000 to realise €532,000.
Other notable highlights included André Breton’s Second manifeste du Surréalisme. Frontispice de Salvador Dalí from 1930, which fetched €442,000, nearly triple its high estimate; and a first-edition copy of Champs délicieux (1922), a book collating 40 rayograms by Man Ray, all of which are signed. The book — one of only two known copies — also came with a letter addressed to the photographer Tristan Tzara. It sold for €346,000.
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‘Once Destribat’s collection has been dispersed, it will be impossible for future generations to recreate a collection such as this ever again,’ says Proyart. ‘This is why this series of sales represents a truly surreal moment for the book world and the art market.’