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This superb collection of French paintings and decorative arts was formed by an erudite and sophisticated collector of both French and Spanish origins; a distinguished gentleman also known and loved for his kindness and hospitality. The quality and breadth of his collection demonstrate his deep understanding of art and history, which developed and matured through endless curiosity, extensive travels and friendships formed in the art world.
He also paid much attention to the interiors created to house his collection, which were introduced by Maison Jansen, one of the greatest French decorating firms of the 20th Century. The firm's directors Stephane Boudin and later Pierre Delbée developed decoration schemes for illustrious clients ranging from Sir Philip Sassoon, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and Helena Rubinstein to Jayne and Charles Wrightsman, John F. and Jacqueline Kennedy, members of the March Family and the Shah of Iran.
The collaboration with Maison Jansen was particularly fruitful in this instance, and the interiors, incorporating various painted and mirrored boiseries, created a backdrop for the rich collection. The input of the collector himself was evidently paramount in the conception of these beautiful and harmonious French interiors recalling the Grand Siècle which are among the most accomplished spaces created by this celebrated decorating firm.
Set off a tree-lined avenue in the capital, the stone facade and its sober marble lobby revealed very little of the riches to be found in the apartment lying several floors above. Through the small entrance one entered the large hall which had an elegant Louis XVI boiserie introduced by Maison Jansen and painted in celadon or eau-de-nil, heightened with gilt mouldings and inset with mirrored panels. The most striking work of art here was a pair of monumental Louis XVI ormolu candelabra executed by Pierre Gouthiére (1732-1813) in the late 1780s. These were acquired in 1977 via the great Parisian antiquaire Kugel, who assisted with many purchases in this collection, from the sale of the celebrated collection of Rothschild/Rosebery at Mentmore Towers, Buckinghamshire. A tour-de-force in the art of the fondeur, ciseleur and doreur, these are among the most costly bronzes d'ameublement executed in the late 18th Century. Similar candelabra were acquired from the marchand-mercier Dominique Daguerre by the Prince Regent, now at Buckingham Palace, and by Grand Duke Paul of Russia, for Pavlovsk Palace, now on display in the Green Dining Room at Catherine Palace, St. Petersburg.
Beyond the hall lay the salon, again embellished with a Louis XVI boiserie but decorated in a cooler blue tone; most treasures were kept in this room, where friends were also entertained. On the short wall hung the 1793 portrait by Louis Gauffier (1761-1801) of the 1st Count of Mafra, Portuguese Ambassador to France, again purchased from Kugel. This small full-length portrait was one of the favourites among the collection. Beneath it stood one of a pair of important Italian neoclassical commodes, designed and mounted by the distinguished architect, designer and metalworker Luigi Valadier (1726-1785) who counted the Borghese Princes in Rome amongst his patrons. These commodes were the result of a complex collaboration between designer, bronze workers and cabinet-makers; surmounted by striking and rare striated marble veneered tops, they are among Valadier's most balanced and sophisticated designs conceived towards the end of his career when his work reached its apogée.
Next to the salon lay the dining room lined with a dark wooden boiserie, thus forming a contrast with the hall and salon. This was an evening room used for sumptuous entertainment where precious porcelain and shimmering gold and silver were arranged on the dark mahogany dining table. Sèvres biscuit porcelain hunting groups were mixed with Russian plates and English flatware. The eclectic mixture of materials and styles was carefully chosen, and never ceased to surprise. Above a giltwood console table supplied by Jansen hung a superb pair of capricci by Hubert Robert (1733-1808). Depicting temples and ruins in the Forum, Rome, these pictures were part of the collection of HRH the Duchess of Kent, sold at Christie's London in 1947.
The list of treasures is endless, each chosen for their quality, design, history or provenance. Each item had a story, something surprising or exceptional, each was pleasing to the eye and stimulating to the mind. Together they formed a harmonious ensemble, where all parts played a role. The dispersal of this collection offers new and established collectors a unique opportunity to acquire something from this magnificent group.