Sculptures, paintings, furniture and decorative objects that celebrate a unique collaboration between the designer and a discerning collector
The Casablanca-born interior designer Alberto Pinto (1943-2012) positively embraced extravagance and outsized projects. ‘Most people are afraid of houses on a grand scale,’ he told Architectural Digest in 1992, ‘but I’ve always been completely at home in them.’
He meant this literally. Pinto spent the last decade of his life living in an immense first-floor apartment on the Quai d’Orsay overlooking the River Seine. He liked it so much that when he heard that the third-floor apartment in the same building was up for sale he rang a collector friend of his, who turned up and bought it on the spot.
‘It had precisely the kind of prestige and scale that Alberto’s friend had been seeking for his collection,’ says Lionel Gosset, Deputy Chairman of Christie’s France, who knew Pinto well. ‘Alberto used a lot of fabrics, such as velvet and taffeta, to decorate the rooms. It gave the place a flavour of the 18th century, with lots of wood panelling as well.’
The owner of this apartment, which was recently sold, has now decided to sell his extensive collection of sculptures, paintings, tapestries and fine furniture. The auction, Le Grand Style: An apartment on the Quai d’Orsay designed by Alberto Pinto, comprising 228 lots, will take place at Christie’s Paris on 30 June. It is part of a series of sales, 20th/21st Century Art: London to Paris, that will be held in the two capitals at the end of June and in early July.
The collector, who prefers to remain anonymous, began to build his collection in the 1980s. According to Charles Cator, Deputy Chairman of Christie’s International, one of the first pieces he bought was a watercolour study by Marc Chagall for his 1931 masterpiece L’Écuyère. The trope of a couple in flight over the artist’s Russian homeland came to be recognised as one of Chagall’s predominant pictorial devices.
Some of the most valuable pieces in the upcoming sale (excluding a cast of Rodin’s The Thinker) were acquired in 1993, at a Christie’s Monaco sale of French fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy’s collection. It was a landmark sale, setting a then-record for a single-owner auction of decorative arts.
‘The Givenchy sale was a big one for both of us,’ Cator says. ‘If you’re working on something for months and living and dreaming it, which I was for this sale, and then you show someone around and they really get it, that is incredibly exciting.’
The collector’s purchases there included a late 16th- or early 17th-century bronze known as The Falling Gaul, which was once owned by Venice’s powerful Grimani family. It is thought to have been cast by the Venetian sculptor Tiziano Aspetti (circa 1559-1606) from a marble statue he had restored. ‘What’s really interesting is that it was cast in bronze from a Roman marble, which was itself taken from a Greek original,’ says Cator. The sculpture took pride of place in the collector’s dining room, where it could be admired from a table big enough for 40 people to sit around.
Gosset notes the immensity of the Quai d’Orsay apartment’s rooms, especially the hallway, grand salon and dining room, and their 26-feet-high ceilings. ‘This apartment was designed in the 1930s to show off tapestries, wood panelling and enormous mirrors to their best effect,’ he says. ‘Alberto conceived it in Grand Siècle style, with a really stunning sense of classicism and decorative elegance.’
Its highlights included an early 18th-century Régence mirror attributed to the French sculptor Charles Cressent (1685-1768), which hung in the grand salon opposite The Thinker. Its towering 10-feet-tall gilt-bronze frame, decorated with phoenixes and Bacchic masks, is especially rare.
‘The Cressent mirror fits perfectly in this apartment, but it was a bold move to acquire it from the Givenchy sale in the first place,’ says Cator. ‘The apartment’s former owner is a serious collector, so he had his own input, but I think it was a journey he and Alberto took together.’
A striking oil painting by the Dutch Golden Age artist Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627-78), A Youth Reading on the Stairs, also came from the Givenchy collection. A perfect place was found for it at the end of the apartment’s long entrance hall. It is one of the most notable of Hoogstraten’s experiments with pictorial perspective.
On entering the gallery visitors were first greeted by a sumptuous Louis XIV ebony and Boulle marquetry bureau plat with a distinctive long thin shape. The bureau, which is attributed to Andrė-Charles Boulle himself, is believed to have been slightly remodelled in the second half of the 18th century, possibly by Claude-François Julliot. ‘The collector has very classical tastes and is a big fan of anything from the time of Louis XIV or Louis XV,’ says Gosset. ‘So there were a lot of coffee tables and sofas modelled after the Régence style and interpreted by Pinto to complement the owner’s existing collection.’
All of them contributed to the impression of a not-so-mini-Versailles on the banks of the Seine, especially at night. ‘It was magnificent when you saw everything illuminated by a thousand candles in the dining room,’ says Gosset. ‘It was quite a spectacle, with the Seine glistening in the moonlight.’
The Pinto touch often involved dressing the walls and ceilings of certain rooms in rich fabrics. He covered the dining room interior of his friend’s apartment in caramel-coloured silk-velvet. ‘That’s something you rarely see,’ says Gosset. ‘He did the same in his own dining room, but with green silk-velvet.’
When Pinto was growing up in Casablanca he watched his mother working with textiles. ‘He always liked fabrics, embroideries and decorative trimmings,’ says Gosset of Pinto, whose parents were Argentines of French and Italian extraction. One of the features of the dining room and a highlight of the upcoming sale is Fish Quay, a Brussels Teniers tapestry from the 17th century, which is in particularly good condition.
Pinto’s style of interior design came to be known as ‘haute decoration’ because of its boldness and focus on luxurious objects and materials. ‘With this sale the collector wanted to pay tribute to what Alberto created,’ says Cator. ‘There are richly patterned carpets and passementerie [decorative edgings and trimmings], but also many surfaces finished with lacquer, Boulle marquetry, silver and silver-gilt, as well as sculptures and busts in marble and bronze.’
The collector’s tastes also stretched to more eclectic objects, such as a collection of Baltic and Scandinavian tankards in silver and silver-gilt, as well as a group of Blue John pieces in a variety of shapes and sizes.
The collector’s drawings and paintings are mostly from the 20th-century. They include Portrait de Micheline, a 1939 drawing by Henri Matisse, which he bought at the Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Bergé sale in 2009. The model in the drawing is thought to be Micheline Payot, who sat for Matisse in 1939 and 1940.
There are also some more contemporary works, such as Yves Klein’s Cosmogonie COS 31 (1960) and Sigmar Polke’s How Fish Can Boost Your Brain Power (2003). Both these works will be offered as part of the 20th/21st Century London-to-Paris relay sales at Christie’s on 28 June.