Camille de Foresta with Cerf en cristal de roche, China, Qing dynasty (1644-1911). Sold for €162,500 in Art dAsie on 12 June 2019 at Christie’s in Paris

5 minutes with... A rock-crystal deer owned by Coco Chanel

Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art specialist Camille de Foresta encounters a Qing-dynasty rock-crystal deer that used to adorn the fashion icon’s coffee table in her suite at the Ritz.

Coco Chanel is remembered for her timeless elegance, little black dresses and total disregard for sartorial rules. She was born in 1883 to working-class parents in the Loire Valley in France, but later moved to Paris where, in 1918, she established her maison de couture  at 31 rue Cambon. 

There Chanel would reinvent the female silhouette with her simple-line designs and iconic tweed suits; host salons and exhibitions for the world’s fashion elite; and expand her eponymous range to include perfumes, accessories, shoes and make-up. The grand Haussmannian building was also home to Chanel’s private apartment.

Coco Chanel photographed in her apartment at the Ritz in 1937. The glass case in which she kept the rock crystal deer can just be made out on the mantelpiece, behind her head. Photo © Ministère de la Culture — Médiathèque de larchitecture et du patrimoine, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais  François Kollar. © RMN — Gestion droit dauteur François

Coco Chanel photographed in her apartment at the Ritz in 1937. The glass case in which she kept the rock crystal deer can just be made out on the mantelpiece, behind her head. Photo © Ministère de la Culture — Médiathèque de l'architecture et du patrimoine, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / François Kollar. © RMN — Gestion droit d'auteur François Kollar.

‘Chanel famously entertained at 31 rue Cambon, but slept in a private suite at the Ritz Hotel,’ explains Camille de Foresta, a specialist in Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art. ‘She was a notable collector of antiquities, furniture and Chinese works of art, and surrounded herself with beautiful, opulent objects from around the world, from Greek vases to rock-crystal chandeliers and gilt Venetian mirrors.’

Amid the collection, which was split between the private apartment at 31 rue Cambon — which has remained virtually untouched since Chanel’s death in 1971 — and her suite at the Ritz, was this rock-crystal deer, sculpted in China during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911).


A rock crystal deer, China, Qing dynasty (1644-1911). Height 18.5  cm (7¼ in). Sold for €162,500 in Art d’Asie on 12 June 2019 at Christie’s in Paris

A rock crystal deer, China, Qing dynasty (1644-1911). Height: 18.5 cm (7¼ in). Sold for €162,500 in Art d’Asie on 12 June 2019 at Christie’s in Paris

‘It formerly adorned a coffee table — and at times the mantlepiece [its glass case can just be made out behind Chanel’s head in the above photograph] — in Coco’s suite at the Ritz,’ says de Foresta. ‘The deer is an auspicious figure in Chinese mythology, associated with longevity, wisdom and good fortune.’ 

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This would not have been lost on Chanel, who was famously superstitious and a firm believer in symbols, signs and crystals. Besides her magnificent collection of around 32 Coromandel lacquer screens [also seen in the above 1937 photograph], emblazoned with scenes of imperial life, flora and fauna, her interiors were filled with beneficent emblems and talismans, such as a majestic, gilded pair of lions’ heads — ‘a nod to her star sign, Leo,’ says de Foresta.

A white and brown-glazed biscuit figure of a monkey, China, Qing dynasty, Qianlong period (1736-1795). Height 22  cm (8¾  in). Sold for €112,500 on 13 June 2018 at Christie’s in Paris

A white and brown-glazed biscuit figure of a monkey, China, Qing dynasty, Qianlong period (1736-1795). Height: 22 cm (8¾ in). Sold for €112,500 on 13 June 2018 at Christie’s in Paris

In June 2018 Christie’s auctioned another of Coco Chanel’s talismanic sculptures: a white and brown-glazed biscuit statue of a monkey (pictured above), an animal which, in ancient Chinese mythology, is widely symbolic of power and wisdom. The statue soared past its estimate of €4,000-6,000 to realise €112,500. 

‘Considering the amazing result realised for the biscuit monkey, I expect this rock-crystal deer to have tremendous appeal to lovers of Asian art,’ comments the specialist, ‘as well as devoted admirers of Coco Chanel.’