No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 21% will be added to the buyer''s premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.
Axel Vervoordt has spent most of his 56 years pursuing and capturing the evidence of human creativity at its most subtle and beautiful. He discovers superb objects, works of art and furniture both major and minor from every archaic, antique, modern and contemporary culture. Some he finds forgotten in an attic at a country auction or during the dismantling of a great house. Some he discovers on his travels to the East. He possesses these discoveries for a time, however brief, and then finds them new contexts in which they may come into their own once more.
Is Axel Vervoordt an antique dealer? No. Rather he is an antiquarian and a collector who constantly changes and plays with his collection. An antiquarian at heart, Vervoordt can also be described as a dealer and furnisher because he advises his clients on what to acquire and how to arrange these acquisitions in their houses. Is he a decorator? It is a word he thoroughly dislikes and he is uncomfortable when being described as such, but he does have very strong views about the interiors in which the objects he has discovered can come triumphantly into their own and he will advise his clients accordingly.
'I consider myself a very eclectic collector and dealer. I treasure the timeless and disdain the trendy. My taste spans centuries, cultures, continents and economic strata and I have never liked flash or ostentatious interiors'.
Vervoordt is not merely preoccupied with possessing, even for a brief moment, the things he finds beautiful, interesting, rich and strange. He is a true creator, a philosopher of the three dimensions whose dialectic is founded on the visible. His raw material, his vocabulary, is drawn from a vast array of works of art from virtually every period of civilisation. Working with these elements, he effects new compositions, putting them into fresh contexts to create a dynamic, a harmony for the present. He choreographs objects in space.
A native of Antwerp, Belgium, Vervoordt is a man of high and concentrated purpose with the drive and energy to achieve his aims. He and his wife May inhabit Kasteel van 's-Gravenwezel, a castle set in a moat in the flat Flanders landscape near Brussels. The castle was first recorded in 1108, but the oldest part of the present building dates from the early 14th Century. Its rococo façade was added in 1729. In the large park, 18th Century sculptural fragments by Michiel Van der Voordt, inspired by classical mythology, lie partly hidden among fallen leaves. Shaggy mountains of rhododendrons clipped in cloud formations rise like rocks from the grass. Clearings in the beechwoods reveal stones set in sand to remind one of the sea; witness to Vervoordt's fascination with zen and zen gardens.
Behind the 18th Century orangery and conservatory, both still used as such, and the dependencies, now used as libraries and studio offices, lies a vast, formal garden of 'rooms' whose walls are formed by geometrically clipped box hedges. This garden, which looks as if it had been planted centuries ago, is the creation of Axel and his wife May.
From the castle, a happy hybrid of home, visual laboratory and cultural happenings, Axel Vervoordt's reputation as a leader in the complex field of contemporary taste has spread throughout Europe and America. His curious and far-ranging mind does not confine itself to his chosen aesthetic discipline. Weekend guests often find themselves dining by candlelight in the garden and engaging in impromptu seminars discussing questions that range from contemporary morality to the best way of baking bread, to designing grand opera. Or they might be invited to a concert of specially commissioned contemporary music.
Twice a year, over weekends in spring and late autumn, he opens his doors to the public; more than 6,000 visitors might pause to admire May's exquisite displays of flowers from the cutting gardens, or Vervoordt's new arrangement of his library or drawing room.
Axel Vervoordt spent his childhood and early life in Antwerp, where his mother bought and restored 17th Century houses that had fallen into disuse and disrepair in the centre of the city. By the time he was 21, he had joined her in this enterprise and began to restore a whole street near the cathedral.
'Although I knew of the castle it had never occurred to me that it might be for sale' he remembers. 'It was a sleeping beauty of a castle, that had been in the same aristocratic Belgian family since l728. I heard the castle had been put up for sale by the 42 heirs to the estate. At the time, we were living quite close by and one Sunday morning I decided to go and see the castle. When May and I stood on the bridge over the moat and gazed at it, we turned to each other and I said 'There's no choice. For me' he says 'its like a present. I really feel I have been chosen to live in the castle'.
For two years, over 40 people worked on the castle restoring it. Inside it was, as Vervoordt describes 'terrible'. 'There was plastic paint on the walls and tiny little mouldings, all of the wrong scale and probably do-it-yourself. We even had to take out things that had been well made because they were wrong'. 'We have' he says 'restored most of the rooms to what they would have been originally, and furnished them in the appropriate style. But some are in our style, the rooms nearest to our hearts where the architecture is of course original, but the decoration has been purified and simplified'.
These private rooms where the clocks have not been turned back to the castle's heyday represent everything that Vervoordt believes in. To demonstrate this new way of looking at interiors, to explain and promote his vision of limitless spatial purity, Vervoordt felt he needed to find another, very different environment. 'So, about eight years ago, I began to look for an industrial building to buy near Antwerp to strip down to a minimalism inspired by the loft we had created in the middle of Antwerp in which we lived when we were first married'.
He found a large industrial site on the edge of the Antwerp shipping canal; a vast conglomeration of industrial buildings that he decided to turn into the Kanaal gallery. The site had two parts. First, a series of very nice old brick brew houses dating to the early l9th Century. Then, in the middle of these attractive brick buildings there is a towering pre-stressed concrete grain dryer, built in the l950s when the site became a grain store.
'Working very closely with my sons, Boris and Dick, we have restored these remnants of Antwerp's industrial past by stripping them right down to their essential architecture' Vervoordt explains. 'The floors are bare, the original sanded wooden board or poured cement. The walls are exposed brick or whitewashed cement blocks. Iron beams and girders are left exposed. Stairs are of cement. In these lofty industrial chambers I have' says Vervoordt 'furthered my ideas of how we might wish to live in the 21st Century'.
Here, one sees how Vervoordt's supreme talent for re-contextualising objects from every time creates a truly contemporary ambience. 17th and l8th Century library steps and ladders lean up against bare brick walls. Against an exposed brick wall might be two elaborate silver candelabra by a master silversmith. Taken away from some princely dining table, they become not table decoration nor emblems of wealth and power, but strange and beautiful abstract objects.
But perhaps the cement grain dryer is truest to Vervoordt's vision of the future. 'The original rough beaten-earth floor has been left as it was' he explains. Simple duckboards lead the visitor through a forest of cement pillars which soar up to the sky above. 'Here stands my collection of Mon Dvaravatti statues made between the 6th and 8th Centuries by Indian monks who bought Zen Buddhism to Thailand'. It is a challenging new context in which to reconsider these spare exercises in form from an earlier age and a different culture.
'I find everything I like has a timeless quality' says Vervoordt. 'They are what they are, they've got a strong expression, they are made with the right spirit of respect and love and they are made to live for a long time. But I also like things that are created in an instant; I like pictures by Rubens where he has applied the paint with one stroke, like an action painting, and I also like Zen paintings, where a monk might have prepared the painting he had in his mind for many years and then executed it in one second'.
Vervoordt felt very strongly that he needed to give the Kanaal another dimension in its new life. 'We decided to buy a major contemporary work of art to be displayed there, partly as a gift to the future'. Now, in the old circular brick brew house, stripped of the metal brewing vats, freshly whitewashed and with a dark, polished, cement floor, hangs Anish Kapoor's majestic, numinous circular sculpture installation - At the Edge of the World (l998). 'Both my sons are in the business and we felt that the inspiration of art and music was more and more important for the future'.
'What interests me most in my discoveries of old things is understanding how they are the precursors of our present day - of the 'contemporary'' says Vervoordt. 'I need these things for inspiration more than I need to possess them. If I were to live in a smaller house, I would take very few of my possessions with me. I would take some of my modern pictures, some oriental art. I might take some Egyptian pieces and beautiful simple useful things in wood. I would only take things that have an internal life and an interesting spirit'.
Most house sales are prompted by a move. In the case of Axel Vervoordt the opposite is true; he has no intention of moving out of his enchanted castle. As he puts it 'this sale of 1,000 carefully selected objects is to encourage the wider international audience which Christie's can attract to the castle and see objects of the highest quality to the most humble - rather than to get rid of everything - there are' he laughs 'still many wonderful objects left'.
Of the 1,000 objects in the sale, some are his personal favourites from his private collection, including the magnificent porphyry vase (lot 95), the George II 'Kent' bookcase (lot 110), the fifteen portraits of Roman Emperors removed from his library (lot 143) and the room of delft tiles commemorating the end of the l00 years war (lot 150).
He is looking forward to welcoming a new audience, a new generation to his castle and promises that the sale will be 'more of a festival than a sale. There will be a big party here, there will be music in the castle and wonderful picnics in the park'. And the future, after the sale? 'I will continue as I have always done. There is no revolution, I will continue to look for works of art with a universal feeling of peace, love and freedom, and I will continue to mix one with another, as I have always done'.
SESSION ONE AT 18.00