‘This is really a portrait of the man himself,’ says Edmond Francey, Senior Specialist and International Director for Post-War & Contemporary Art, of the collection of Pierre Rochelois, which will be auctioned on 27 September at Christie’s Paris.
The sale’s title, Droit de Regard, he explains, references a legal term as well as the idea of observation, which is key to art, punning on Rochelois’ dual identity. Considered to be one of the most important notaries in France, he was also a ‘connoisseur’ who became close friends with one of the greatest artists of our time, Anselm Kiefer.
Rochelois’ collection has long been housed in a beautiful apartment at the heart of the Marais in Paris, a site that reflects what Francey terms, the ‘tension’ between old and new that runs through the artworks it comprises. Originally a 17th-century hôtel particulier, the apartment is also strikingly modern in style.
For Francey, the art — ranging from classical to contemporary — acts as a kind of trait d’union, or bridge, ‘between these two worlds’, resonating with both elements of the building. Outside a stunning garden becomes the idyllic setting for sculptures by Germaine Richier and César nestled among the lavender and hydrangeas they create a dialogue with the antiquities on display in the apartment.
As well as a love for sculpture, Rochelois had a keen eye for painting, Francey explains, and his collection is dominated by names such as Frank Stella, Kenneth Noland and A.R. Penck. ‘The paintings in the collection are all very strong visually, and are very good examples by the artists,’ says Francey.
As a collector, Rochelois was deeply embedded in the art world and the works in the sale reflect his far-reaching taste, Francey believes: ‘From abstraction to figuration, American to French artists, he had a very wide view on art.’ Most of all, he says, ‘Rochelois had a special love for materiality, for surface.’
This love is reflected in Miquel Barceló’s unsettling Boc Encapironat and also für Paul Celan (for Paul Celan), a large mixed media piece by Anselm Kiefer, which Francey describes as representing this powerful ‘tension’, once again, this time between ‘the darkness of [the subject] and the light of the snow. He has created a space within a space — the space of history, of painting — it’s a breathtaking piece.’
Anselm Kiefer (b. 1945), für Paul Celan, 2006. Oil, emulsion, acrylic, branches, metal, wood, and chalk on canvas mounted on board. 110½ x 224⅜ x 19⅝ in (280 x 570 x 50 cm). Estimate: €700,000-1,000,000. Offered in Droit de regard. Collection Pierre Rochelois on 27 September 2021 at Christie’s Paris
Rochelois first met Kiefer in the early 1990s when the German artist moved to Barjac, in the South of France, to set up a studio that would eventually become a monumental gesamtkunstwerk. While the connection was originally professional, the pair soon found they had lots to talk about, says Francey; ‘Sometimes two men meet and have amazing conversations. They talked about life, about God, religion, the arts, and food.’
This conversation ended up lasting many years as the pair became closer and Rochelois began collecting Kiefer’s work. ‘It was a very special relationship,’ Francey continues, ‘between two men of culture. One was a notary and one was an artist but they were both intellectuals.’
‘Rochelois could be very vocal but also very mysterious,’ reflects Francey, and it is perhaps this mystery that first attracted Kiefer to the collector. Rochelois grew up in Auvergne, at the centre of France, which meant, Francey says, that he always had his feet ‘rooted in the earth’ while his ‘head was in the sky’. Kiefer also had a great love for France, he continues, particularly its culture and myth, which became a common thread between the two despite their different backgrounds.
Pierre Rochelois with artist Anselm Kiefer
For Francey — who has enjoyed his own ‘special relationship’ with the collector that went ‘beyond valuations’ and spanned many years — Rochelois is ‘a very French kind of connoisseur’, and while the collector was extremely successful as a notary, he was ‘never as happy as when he had his weekend or hours-long conversations with Kiefer.’
The two evidently shared a curiosity about life and art which is reflected in Rochelois’ collection, says Francey. As well as old and new, the works in his apartment also move between some of the other binaries that run through western culture, such as ‘masculine and feminine’ — demonstrated by the bold abstract canvases such as Upright by Kenneth Noland and more sensual works such as Hallelujah by Annette Messager. ‘It is a kind of aller-retour between strength and sensitivity,’ explains Francey, underpinned by that all-important ‘tension’.
‘It’s a very personal collection,’ Francey insists, and yet it goes beyond the individual, standing as it does, at the ‘crossroads of globalisation’. And while the works are set to leave their home in Paris to take their place on the world stage at the end of this month, the story of this collection, which stands as a testament to friendship and connoisseurship, is sure to resonate with the next generation of collectors.