On entering the Wildenstein's hôtel particulier, the hôtel de Wailly in the rue de la Boetie, one was instantly transported to the munificence of a bygone era. Therein lay the world of Sir Richard Wallace at Hertford House, London, Henry Clay Frick in New York, Comte Moïse de Camondo in Paris and Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon.
The remarkable ensemble of magnificent French furniture and objets d'art is largely the creation of one manNathan Wildenstein (1851-1934). A leviathan in the history of taste, he was the founder of the Wildenstein dynasty that has now become synonymous with so many of the world's greatest artistic treasures. From humble beginnings, Nathan's brilliant and incisive mind seized upon the opportunities unfolding at the turn of the 20th century.
A passionate devotee of 18th Century French culture - that age of intense intellectual curiosity and burgeoning social conscience that was reflected in the literature and philosophy of the Enlightenment - Nathan was in large part responsible for reigniting enthusiasm in the sublime cultural legacy of the French ancien régime.
Based initially in Paris, he expanded his operations to embrace both New York in 1902 and, subsequently London.
The legendary townhouse on East 64th Streetwhere the headquarters of the business moved in 1931 and remains to this daywas designed by Horace Trumbauer in true Parisian taste. It was here that the first dispersal from the Wildenstein Collectionssold in 1979originally stood, and many of those chefs d'oeuvres now form the backbone of museum collections, including that of the Getty.
Trusted advisor to financial Maecenas including Rockefeller, Morgan, Frick, Bache, Huntington and Edward G. Robinson in America, as well as the chosen intermediary in Europe of everyone from the French Rothschilds to Gulbenkian, the Bolsheviks and even Pope Pius VI - who considered disposing of Michelangelo's Pieta to raise funds for the poor - Wildenstein's legacy is unsurpassed in the annals of the art market.
The collection of French furniture and works of art, however, was a private passion - voraciously and discretely pursued for the embellishment of the Grandes Galeries of the hôtel de Wailly. A private palace, unpublished save for six illustrations in Charles Packer's 1956 book on Paris Furniture, this veritable connoisseur's collection has remained unknown and unresearched by a century of furniture historians and collectors. Remaining in untouched and unrestored condition, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
It is Christie's very great pleasure to be able to reveal these hidden treasures and we look forward to sharing them with you in London in early December.
Orlando Rock, Department Head, Private Collection & Country House Sales, London