Paul Destribats (1926-2017) was one of the greatest book collectors of his generation, and his collection of more than 6,000 volumes, manuscripts and printed documents covering the 20th-century avant-garde is one of the finest ever to come to market.
The collection offers ‘an encyclopaedic overview’ of the diverse strands of the European, American, and even Asiatic avant-garde movement, and boasts works by some of its greatest 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.
Christie’s Paris, in association with Librarie Jean-Baptiste de Proyart and specialist Claude Oterelo, will offer the library of Paul Destribats across three dedicated sales. The first, Bibliothèque Paul Destribats – Part I (3 and 5 July in Paris), will present an important group of around 600 works published between 1909 and 1945. Further works from the collection will be offered in two forthcoming sales at Christie’s Paris in 2020.
Among the important works coming to auction this July is a first edition copy of André Breton’s L’Air de l’eau, illustrated by Alberto Giacometti, and edited in Paris in 1934 by Editions Chaiers d’Art.
A further highlight is the only known signed manuscript of André Breton and Paul Eduard’s ground-breaking Dictionnaire abrégé du Surréalisme, conceived in Paris in 1938. A printed version of the dictionary with cover designed by artist Yves Tanguy, which was published by Galerie Beaux-Arts in 1938 and later loaned by Destribats to the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 2002, will also be offered.
While many of the books in this collection (as above) 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’.
One such example is a first edition copy of La Barre d’appui, a volume of poems by Paul Eluard, which is illustrated with engravings by Picasso of Nusch, the love of the poet’s life, and to whom this edition is dedicated.
‘This copy is exceptional because all of Picasso’s engravings of Nusch are printed in black, blue, green and red,’ says Adrien Legendre, Head of Department, Books and Manuscripts at Christie’s in Paris.
Further highlights of the collection coming to Christie’s Paris this July include the only signed manuscript of J’ai tué, (1918), one of the most radical works written by French poet Blaise Cendrars; and a first edition copy of Champs délicieux, (1922), a book collating 40 rayograms by Man Ray, all which are signed. The copy also comes with a letter addressed to the photographer by Tristan Tzara, and is one of only two known copies of the work.
Two further important Man Ray works are included to auction: La Nourrice des étoiles (1935-37), and L’Écriture automatique (1935-37), both of which appear in Breton and Eluard’s Dictionnaire abrégé du Surréalisme.
‘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 sale represents a truly surreal moment for the book world and the art market.’