The late co-founder of The Chinese Porcelain Company was a master of the mix, both in his beloved gallery and Fifth Avenue apartment
In today’s interior design landscape, mixing art design from across centuries and continents has become the de facto decorating standard. However, long before this was the norm, Pierre Durand dazzled visitors to his gallery, The Chinese Porcelain Company, or his Fifth Avenue home with his unexpected and eclectic juxtapositions of East and West, new and old.
‘I would love when we would travel together because Pierre could see what no one else saw, whether it was about an antique store or modern art’ Giselle Durand, Pierre’s younger sister, remembers of the collector who passed away in January 2021. ‘He would take things from one place and put them somewhere else in his home, and it would look fantastic, and everybody had something to say about it.’
On 27 January 2022, Pierre’s curated mix of global treasures will come to auction in The Collection of Pierre Durand. Like his shop and apartment, objects range from Chinese export porcelain and continental furniture to modern art and design.
Pierre Durand: From Lima to New York City
Raised in Lima, Peru, with an Italian mother and a Peruvian father of French descent, Giselle recalls that Pierre was always a collector, albeit a private, humble, and meditative one. ‘He was born with a unique eye, but he was also very cultivated. He would read a lot and get input from everywhere. You never knew when he was doing it, but he was always learning,’ explains Giselle. This global sensibility and appreciation of the arts would eventually lead Pierre to become a board member of Venetian Heritage, the Master Drawings Association Inc., Morgan Library & Museum, and American Friends of the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
She continues, ‘He collected stones, shells, fossils, and stamps from a very young age. As we got a little older, he would buy ceramics with his pocket money. He had a calm personality and was so methodical, but he never bragged about collecting — it was just his passion. He was a kind and special person who collected great friends, too.’
Despite always having an interest in visual culture, Durand pursued a degree in Industrial Engineering at Cornell University in New York in the early 1980s followed by a MBA at Columbia University. It was at Cornell, however, that he met Khalil Rizk, who became his business and life partner, and ultimately, a key figure in further cultivating Pierre’s artistic expression. In 1984 the two opened The Chinese Porcelain Company, where in 2001 after Rizk passed, Pierre became more directly involved while balancing his own investment firm.
‘As director of the Chinese Porcelain Company, Pierre curated a wonderfully interesting juxtaposition of 18th-century French menuiserie (carpentry) with the best of Asian pieces,’ says Peter Marino. The architect and designer was a friend of Pierre’s and a client of the gallery.
It’s with this same eye that Pierre approached his home. ‘The spaces Pierre created and the way the objects spoke to each other were really special because they were not combinations that one would normally think of, for example, a little contemporary painting beside a Japanese basket,’ says Margaret Gristina, Christie’s Senior Specialist, Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art. Having worked at the Chinese Porcelain Company for nearly 15 years, Gristina became a close friend of Durand’s. ‘You couldn’t absorb all of what was in his home. You would have to focus on one spot then move to another, but somehow, it all blended together and worked.’
Both Giselle and Margaret remember how his home was constantly changing. ‘Every time I would visit him, and I would see him very often, there was always something different. Everything was like a constant discovery,’ says Giselle. ‘It’s not that he wasn’t satisfied, but his brain and his taste were always moving.’
Inside the Durand Collection: East Meets West
Pierre had an apartment in Paris as well, and he would frequently shop there and in London at various fairs, antique shows, and auctions. Anchoring his apartment was a circa 1760 George II giltwood and Chinese reverse painted glass mirror, which hung over his mantel. He was drawn to objects with an East-West aesthetic — Buddhist lion figures, Chinese blue and white porcelain, Japanese lanterns, and Chinese 19th-century gilt-decorated lacquer folding screens, were among his trove, which also includes Sèvres porcelain plates from a service made for Pauline Bonaparte, Napoleon’s younger sister. Durand was not overly precious with his porcelain and silver, delighting in using it every day and incorporating it in elegant table settings when entertaining.
Another work that remained a constant in his ever-changing home was a painting by Melchior d’Hondecoeter, a leading bird painter during the Dutch Golden Age. The canvas is a particularly fine, large-scale example of the artist’s work in which exotic birds feature in the foreground of a courtyard or lush garden setting, at times — as here — including a classical structure in the background. With visual influences from his father, Gijsbert Gillisz, his uncle, Jan Baptist Weenix, and Antwerp artist Frans Snyders, Melchior d’Hondecoeter became known as the ‘Raphael of bird painters’ in the 19th century.
One painting with an interesting East-West connection is Francis Cotes’ Portrait of Captain Collingwood Roddam, who was the brother of the decorated British Admiral Robert Roddam. The captain is clad in his East India Company uniform, and dated around 1760, the painting coincides with when the young officer set sail on the East Indiaman Countess of Harcourt to Bombay, where ports were under Roddam’s command. This portrait was completed at the height of Cotes’ popularity, around the time that he became a founding member of the Royal Academy.
Works on Paper
An avid collector of Old Master drawings, Pierre also possessed a rich selection of French drawings, including numerous intimate portraits by artists active in the 18th and 19th centuries. ‘Particularly impressive among the portraits is a drawing by Jean-Baptiste-Jacques Augustin, the portrait of a Seated lady wearing a hat with a feather, traditionally identified with Anne-Josèphe Théroigne de Méricourt, an activist during the French revolution,’ says Giada Damen, Christie’s Old Master Drawings Specialist.
She adds, ‘Another notable French drawing in the collection is a large study of a horseman by Francois Le Moyne, connected to a signed and dated painting by the artist.’ Drawings by German, British, Spanish, and Italian artists are also part of the collection, including a large and important pen and ink drawing with the Head of the Virgin by the Italian 16th-century artist, Bartolomeo Passarotti.
During his lifetime, Durand also admired and supported contemporary artists. He was an early patron of Chinese ink artist Liu Dan, who was living in New York in the 1990s. Pierre and Khalil held one of Dan’s first exhibitions in New York, and the artist’s Taihu Rock (1998) features in the auction.
‘Pierre was what the French call, ‘la vraie chose’ — or what Americans refer to as ‘the real thing,’’ says Pierre’s good friend, designer Miles Redd, who is celebrated for his bold and layered interiors. ‘He was man of refinement, intelligence, and taste. A great light has gone out, and with him a page will turn, because he takes so much with him.’