‘I thought to myself, this is exactly why I love my job,’ says Pauline De Smedt, Head of Design at Christie’s in Paris, reflecting on the 6 March sale of works by the Swiss sculptor Diego Giacometti from the collection of fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy. Ahead of the sale, de Givenchy explained how he wanted to pay tribute to Giacometti, his friend, and to underline what an important artist he was.
Diego Giacometti (1902-1985) worked alongside his sculptor brother Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966), sharing a studio with him at 46 rue Hippolyte-Maindron in Paris for most of his life. A committed collector of Diego Giacometti’s work, Givenchy amassed a substantial number of pieces in bronze, including tables, candle urns, chandeliers and animal sculptures. Most of the 21 lots in the sale had been specially commissioned by Givenchy.
‘Monsieur Givenchy asked us to remove the portrait we had displayed of him, explaining, “This is not about me, but about Diego”’
For De Smedt, however, the most memorable work on offer was Grand table console aux cerfs (circa 1968). ‘It perfectly represents the whole story of the collection,’ she says. ‘It’s a unique piece, specifically designed for M. de Givenchy by Diego Giacometti incorporating his own emblem — the stag.’
The table’s blend of ‘beauty and elegance in their most simple expression’ is manifested in the use of simple triangles with twig-like antlers to represent the stags’ heads, and a table top made of oak. ‘It matched the non-luxurious yet incredibly sophisticated environment in which it used to reside: Monsieur de Givenchy’s country house,’ says De Smedt.
The specialist says she will never forget when the designer and collector visited the sale preview in Paris. ‘He asked us to remove the single portrait we had displayed of him, explaining, “This is not about me, but about Diego.” That is true elegance.’
In the days and weeks before the sale, the atmosphere was similar to the 2009 auction of the The Collection of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé in Paris. ‘It felt as though the whole planet had come to see the show,’ says De Smedt. ‘You could feel the excitement.’
In the saleroom, the table realised €2,650,500 with buyer’s premium — more than six times its low estimate. The auction of 21 lots realised a total of €32,748,500. ‘The sale told a charming story of the friendship between a talented artist and a man with a great eye and great taste,’ says de Smedt. ‘Each lot in the collection illustrated the very personal relationship between Mr de Givenchy and Diego Giacometti. Working on this sale was a gift.’