Illustrator Pierre Le-Tan’s Remarkable Collection Comes Up for Sale at Sotheby’s
The March auction will feature 40 works by the artist as well as unique pieces from his Paris apartment
One of Paris’s most celebrated illustrators, Pierre Le-Tan created remarkable illustrations that quietly captured snippets of every-day life—a smattering of toys, a car driving along a desolate road with its headlights aglow, a neatly composed bath vanity, a rainbow apparent through an apartment window. Many of these drawings—18 to be precise—appeared on the cover of The New Yorker, just one of several publications that featured his work. Additionally, his artwork appeared in museum exhibitions such as the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, on fashions designed by his daughter Olympia Le-Tan, and in books authored by another of his five children, Cleo Le-Tan.
Le-Tan passed away in September, 2019, leaving behind a monumental trove of his possessions, sourced from three rooms in his Place du Palais Bourbon, Paris apartment. Approximately 400 of these items—including 40 works by Le-Tan—will be sold at Sotheby’s Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré gallery in a live auction March 16 and an online sale, open March 9 through 17.
“There is a clear parallel between what Le-Tan collected and created,” says Etienne Hellman, Sotheby’s International senior specialist in Impressionist and modern art in Paris. “His drawings often feature objects from his collections. Furthermore, many of the artists he collected such as Christian Bérard, Pavel Techlitchew, where like him—multi-talented individuals involved in theater, intellectual pursuits as well as painting and drawing.”
Le-Tan documented his enthusiasm for collecting in a 2013 volume, Quelques Collectioneurs. “The collection that I know best and that I find most difficult to talk about is obviously mine,” he wrote. “It is elusive. I have owned, I can say, thousands of objects. Even if today most of them are only souvenirs, I continue to search, to find, to acquire. Acquisition being, for some mysterious reason, the most important act, like the player rolling a dice. The idea of speculation has never crossed my mind, nor that of ‘decoration.’ Collecting is both indispensable and perfectly useless to me.”
In his book, Le-Tan detailed the objects that have captured his fancy—from Japanese weapons to artwork by members of the Bloomsbury Group, followed by “neo-romantics” like Pavel Tchelitchew and Jean Cocteau. Of course there were books and more books, and other trinkets he bought shortly before his death. “Some of the final purchases of Pierre Le Tan include an Egyptian basalt figurine from the XXVIth dynasty,” Hellman tells Galerie. “Towards the end of his life he also regained an interest in Japanese and Asian objects as well as different types of oriental fabrics.”
To give a more authentic sense of the size and scope of Le-Tan’s collection, Sotheby’s plans to recreate the entrance, living room/library, and office from the illustrator’s Seventh Arrondissement apartment within the galleries at the auction house’s location on rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré from March 11 through 15.
“We will attempt to recreate a sense of the atmosphere of the three main rooms of his apartment as a tribute to the taste of this talented draughtsman and man-about-town,” says Hellman. “We hope to show that in its often surprising eclecticism, its sensitivity, its richness, and variety, the collection is always of an assured, highly personal, and often moving and melancholic taste. The exhibition will hopefully encourage visitors to collect themselves outside of established and conventional norms.”
While Le-Tan utilized many of his belongings as inspiration, recreating them in his iconic illustrations, other pieces found within the array are exciting new discoveries. “There are some very interesting sculptures, notably a 19th century marble ‘head of Holofernes’ by the French sculptress Félicie de Fauveau,” Hellman tells Galerie. “A beautiful 17th century ‘signed’ terracotta of the Virgin and Child which we attributed to Jan Peter van Baurscheit the Elder. There is a very important rare and unpublished self-portrait by his father, the Vietnamese painter Le Pho, dated 1929 before he moves to France.”
Rather analyzed piece by piece, or viewed en masse, the Collection of Pierre Le-Tan paints a remarkable portrait of a truly special talent. “We gained insight into a unique personality who collected against the grain and always with a very particular and assured taste,” says Hellman. “What runs throughout the collection is an exceptional sense of the object, valuable or mundane, fragmented or whole.” See more treasures below.
“The Collection of Pierre Le-Tan” will be held in two sessions, with a live auction at Sotheby’s Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré gallery on March 16, and an accompanying online sale open from March 9–17.