‘The château de Digoine, in Burgundy, which I have been restoring for over two years, is now saved. But there is still work to be done to preserve the large stables, the outbuildings, and, notably, the beautiful théâtre de société, once frequented by Sarah Bernhardt and Offenbach,’ explains French author and producer Jean-Louis Remilleux. ‘To finish this invaluable restoration of these buildings, which I love and which I share with the public, I am separating myself from my collection of paintings, furnishings and objects.’
Established over a period of 30 years, Remilleux’s collection features pieces dating from the 17th to 18th century, from France, England, Holland and Sweden — their remarkable provenances often referencing some of history’s most famous figures. The sale at Christie’s will include objects associated with icons of the decorative arts, as well as pieces from famous auctions — from the Comte de Paris to Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé.
‘It has been a superhuman task to select just 10 objects from over 1000, found here and there, across the world as part of a 30-year-long quest,’ comments Remilleux. ‘I know each intimately and love them all, unreservedly.
Remilleux’s approach follows a collecting tradition established by one of the twentieth century’s great collectors Charles de Besteigui. “In his book Venice, the sale of Charles de Besteigui’s Palazzo Labia prompts Paul Morand to state that ‘Human life is never anything more than a warehouse,” says Remilleux. ‘He wasn’t wrong, but in the case of grand collector and interiors master de Besteigui, the warehouse was one of terrific allure — his Venice palazzo remaining etched in public memory as the apotheosis of courtly taste, inspired by Italy, France, Spain, Holland, and the sense of controlled madness which gave his work such a fantastical edge. It remains, for me, a perfect model, without rival. With this in mind, here are my 10 favourite objects:’
The Duc de Vendôme’s Great Dane
Nicasius Bernaerts (Anvers 1620-1678 Paris), Portrait de Tambon, chien du Duc de Vendôme. Oil on canvas. Estimate: €30,000-50,000. This work and those below are offered in La vie de Château on 28 and 29 September at Christie’s Paris.
From the very beginning of his time in Paris, the television producer showed an interest in antiques of the 17th to 19th centuries, whether bronzes or paintings, with a particular affection for any pieces featuring animals. ‘I first began my collecting by seeking out works linked to animals, including bronzes, paintings and sculputres,’ he comments. ‘This impressive portrait of the Duc de Vendôme’s Great Dane is one of the works commissioned by Louis XIV to decorate his menagerie in Versailles. The latter contained works by great French painters, including Oudry, Desportes and Nicasius Bernaerdt. From the 17th to the 18th century, it was quite common to commission a piece depicting the majesty of one’s favourite animal — normally a dog or horse. The collar around Tambon’s also indicates that the animal belonged to one of the most powerful men of the court.
The Sun King’s favourite painter
Hyacinthe Rigaud, self-portrait, called ‘with a blue cloak’, entitled, dedicated and dated, oil on cavas, in a feigned oval. Estimate : €50,000-80,000
I have an enormous affection for this painting. It is a magnificent self-portrait — and one of the most well known by the Sun King’s favourite painter. His regard is luminous, his character appearing frank and warm. On the reverse, Rigaud dedicates the piece to Ranc, his atelier companion. I’ve owned the piece for some time and, for over 10 years, it has been exhibited at the château de Groussay, to the delight of visitors. I have also loaned the work for exhibitions — notably that at the Museum of Perpignan, in the artist’s town of birth. And it is featured in all of the books on Rigaud.
A terracotta vase in the form of the Rhone and the Saone, circle of Joseph-Charles Martin (1749-1834). Circa 1814-1830. Estimate: €5,000-7,000
I have a weakness for terracotta sculptures — and for this one in particular. This double-sided piece shows the Rhône and the Saône, the two rivers that cross in Lyon, where I was born. The great sculptor Marin was already a professor in the capital of Gaules; in these two, finely-sculpted faces, he wanted to represent both the virility of the Rhône and the sensuality of the Saône.
The most comfortable chairs in the world?
A suite of four Louis XVI gilt-walnut armchairs stamped by Louis Delanois, last quarter 18th century. Estimate: €25,000-40,000
Featuring a crosspiece in gilded wood, these remarkable armchairs hail from the Louis XIV period; they are four exceptional pieces from an era known for its chair specialists! One can very easily imagine them being displayed in the royal Châteaux of Saint-Cloud, Clagny, or Marley… you only have to see them to imagine the sort of residence they might once have furnished: chairs such as these were not conceived for any ordinary property. And yet, despite their grand and mysterious provenance, I consider these to be amongst the most comfortable armchairs in the world. One can lose oneself in their arms at any hour of the day!
Janet’s lacquered jewel
A celamine, panlame, brass and lacquered wood chest of drawers with eggshell, straw and butterfly wings by Janine Janet and John Devoluy, Edited by Normacem, 1956. Estimate: €7,000-9,000
Created in the 1950s by Jeanine Janet, this chest of drawers is a lacquered jewel! It is one of the rare pieces of furniture to have been created by the talented interior designer, who was, at the time working on displays for Balenciaga and Dior. I leant the chest of drawers to a major retrospective dedicated to Jeanine Janet at Paris Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature à Paris a few years ago. There’s still so much of this artist’s work left to explore; a truly exceptional large tulip vase by Janet will also feature in the sale.
Saved from execution
Jean-Louis Laneuville (Paris 1756-1826), Citizen Tallien in a dungeon at the force, having in her hands her freshly cut hair. Oil on canvas.Estimate: €150,000-200,000
This painting is one with incredible force! Her gaze stops me in my tracks each time I cross the château’s grand salon. When the work was painted, it seemed the sitter would end her life in Paris’s Prison de la Force under the Reign of Terror — the period of dramatic violence that followed the beginning of the French revolution. This painting, which shows Mme Tallien holding her hair in anticipation of her imminent execution, would be a fantastic acquisition for any history lover — especially because she was not actually executed, but saved from death by revolutionary Jean-Lambert Tallien.
Napoléon’s funerary monument
A bronze funerary monument project dedicated to Napoleon under the Vendôme Column. French, 19th century. Estimate: €3,000-5,000
This unusual object, which I bought quite some time ago, relates to an historic yet little-known project. This Vendôme column is in fact a model of the funerary monument used to bury the ashes of Napoleon 1st upon his return from Sainte-Hélène. The column lifts up to reveal a marble statue of the Emperor, surrounded by the most significant dates in his personal life and military career. Of course, we ended up preferring the dome of Paris’s Invalides as the Emperor’s final resting place. But, as this model shows, we came close to having a model of Napoleon lain recumbent amongst jewels.
Passion and theatrics
A painted wood architect’s model of the theatre at Groussay Castle, under the direction of Emilio Terry (1890-1969). Circa 1952. Estimate: €8,000-12,000
‘When it comes to châteaux, I am a little bit like Sacha Guitry with women: I am faithful until I find something better!,’ says Remilleux. Before being absolutely ‘taken’ by the Château Digoine, the collector had fallen in love with the legendary Château de Groussay. ‘I was fortunate to have the opportunity to live in the château de Groussay for almost 12 years. I loved it with a passion, and restored and opened it to the public. This model represents the marvellous theatre that was the result of collaborations between Emilio Terry, Alexandre Serebriakioff, the designer Georges Geffroy and of course Charles de Besteigui, who was himself inspired by the Margravine Theatre of Bayreuth. A little society theatre inaugurated by the Comédie Française (with an impromptu by renowned French writer Marcel Achard)
Sculpted by a King
A turned ivory column, French, late 18th century. Estimate: €10,000-15,000
What I like about this object, which was hand made by Louis XVI is that is shows another facet of a misunderstood, and unjustly condemned King (a tower at the château of Versailles shows evidence of Louis XVI’s creative work, along with that of subsequent monarchs Charles X and Louis XVII). It’s clear that the King was a more refined, more intelligent, and worldlier man than we give him credit for! It shouldn’t be forgotten that he financed American insurgents, who were a not-insignificant factor in realising the United States’ independence. He also backed expeditions to Bougainville, and the first hot air balloon flights. It’s that aspect of his character — sensitive and curious — that I find in this fascinating object.
A forgotten letter
Alexandre Serebriakoff (1907-1994), Greetings card to Arturo Lopez-Willshaw on 23rd January 1962. Signed and dated lower right, signed dated and inscribed on the reverse; watercolour, gouache, ink and pencil on paper. Estimate: €3,000-5,000
I have several watercolours by Alexandre Serebriakoff, the great interior designer who was active from 1940-1970, who sent his traditional greetings card to two of his friends and clients, Arturo Lopez and Alexis de Rédé. He addresses each with familiar ease, sending a watercolour of the little garden of the Hotel Lambert, with a few hand-written comments on the reverse. It’s an object that captures an era: the complicity between artists and patrons, taking the time to do things, and to do them well, to make the smallest of gestures unforgettable. Yes, inanimate objects certainly do have a soul…
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