Antenna: The Beistegui family collecting tradition

Juan de Beistegui was the third generation of collectors to focus solely on masterpieces, writes Meredith Etherington-Smith. On 10 September, during the Biennale Paris, his superb collection was offered in Paris


‘It is unique to find a family with three generations of collectors, each of which had different interests and chose to focus solely on masterpieces,’ says Simon de Monicault, Director of Decorative Arts at Christie’s in Paris, ahead of the sale of The Collection of Juan de Beistegui. ‘Art and collecting were in the Beistegui family’s DNA.’

The collecting gene first manifested itself in Carlos de Beistegui, who was born in Mexico City in 1863. His family had originally migrated from Spain in the 18th century before amassing a great fortune. In 1876 the Beistegui family settled permanently in France where Carlos, who had ambitions of becoming an artist, enrolled as a pupil of Léon Bonnat.


Carlos de Beistegui in 1893

Carlos de Beistegui subsequently became a passionate collector and, in 1942, he donated part of his collection of paintings to the Louvre, including works by Rubens, Van Dyck, Goya, Largillièrre, Nattier, Fragonard and Ingres. The collection is still exhibited in the Beistegui Room at the museum. Two years later, The Cabinet des Médailles  in Paris bought his collection of 1,227 gold coins.

Carlos’s nephew, Charles de Beistegui (known as Charlie), was born in 1895 and went on to become the patron of Surrealists and architects and designers such as Le Corbusier, Emilio Terry and Jean-Michel Franck. In the early 1930s, he had a penthouse built on the Champs-Elysées. Designed by Le Corbusier, its features included an electronically operated hedge that parted to reveal a view of the Arc de Triomphe, and a roof terrace designed by Salvador Dalí.

Having championed Modernism, Charles latterly turned his attention to recreating historical decoration, and collected important examples of the finest French furniture, some of which he left to his nephew.


‘Charlie’ de Beistegui, nephew of Carlos, at his 1951 masked ball in Venice, which has been hailed as one of the parties of the century

Charles was also a leading figure in international high society. The 1951 masked ball at his Palazzo Labia in Venice, whose ballroom frescoes were painted by Tiepolo, was hailed as one of the parties of the century. It was attended by royalty, aristocrats, socialites, artists and designers, and helped to launch the career of Pierre Cardin, who designed around 30 of the lavish costumes on show.

Charles de Beistegui’s masterpiece is the Chateau de Groussay outside Paris, which he had enlarged and restored in the 18th-century manner with the help of Emilio Terry. He was praised as one of the most important figures in the history of 20th-century interior decoration.


Juan, nephew of Charles, was the third generation of de Beistegui collectors

Charles’s nephew, Juan, was the third generation of Beistegui collectors. After marrying Annick de Rohan-Chabot in 1957, he focused on acquiring notable and exquisite pieces of French furniture with royal provenance by the very best of makers, including André Charles Boulle, Jean-Henri Riesener and Martin Carlin.

Among the pieces offered in the sale are two gilded stools, pictured above, made for Marie Antoinette’s apartment at Compiègne.

A Louis XIV ormolu-mounted writing table (above) by Jean-Henri Riesener from circa 1780 was also supplied to Marie Antoinette, at the Château de la Muette.

André Charles Boulle is represented by a pair of ormolu-mounted, tortoiseshell, copper and pewter marquetry pedestals (above), while another highlight is a pair of imperial Sèvres lapis lazuli porcelain vases with gilded bronze mounts (below) — a 1782 purchase from the future emperor and Maria Feodorovna, which were later displayed at the Pavlovsk Palace.

The Louis XVI lacquered desk by Martin Carlin in the collection, pictured below, was originally owned by Comte de Flahaut. ‘In Paris in the late 18th century, furniture was more expensive than real estate,’ explains de Monicault, of a desk that combines exquisite French marquetry and the very best in Japanese lacquer.

Louis XVI bureau, stamped by Martin Carlin, circa 1780. Height: 103.5 cm (40¾ in); length: 97 cm (38¼ in). Estimate: €400,000-600,000. Offered in The Collection of Juan de Beistegui on 10 September at Christie’s in Paris

This extraordinary collection includes services of delicate 18th-century dinner plates, examples of rare imperial Russian and Chinese objects, and the only contemporary commission — two modern pieces by JAR, who was a close friend of Juan de Beistegui.

Calcedoine box, rock crystal, coloured sapphires, coloured diamonds and diamonds, by JAR. Height: 4.2 cm (1.6 in); length: 9.5 cm (3.7 in); width: 5.8 cm (2.2 in). Estimate: €80,000-120,000. Offered in The Collection of Juan de Beistegui on 10 September at Christie’s in Paris

Citrine spindle, ruby, coloured diamond and diamonds, by JAR. Height: 8.5 cm (3.74 in); length: 9.5 cm (3.7 in). Estimate: €50,000-80,000. Offered in The Collection of Juan de Beistegui on 10 September at Christie’s in Paris

Juan, who died in 2017, was also a noted bibliophile and amassed an important collection of rare and beautiful illustrated ethnographical and botanical books.

Among the many treasures on offer is a set of original drawings by José Luciano Castañeda (1774-1834), plus manuscripts by Captain Guillermo Dupaix (1746-1818), which together chronicle three expeditions to Mexico ordered by Charles V of Spain and undertaken in 1805, 1806 and 1807. The expeditions discovered important sites of Pre-Columbian art, including sculptures and pyramidal structures.

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