A remarkable archive of Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s personal property makes its second visit to the auction room in less than a decade this month when it is offered by Heritage Auctions in New York.
The Renoir Estate Collection includes
hundreds of personal letters, photos and other memorabilia such as
Renoir's trademark polka-dotted silk scarf, spectacles, marriage
licence and a notebook full of critics' reviews. Heritage, who will
offer the archive in 143 lots on September 19, have estimated its
value at $3m.
The cache, recovered from Les Collettes, the
artist's residence in Cagnes-sur-Mer, remained with Renoir's heirs
in Houston, Texas, until mid 2004 when - via a Florida art dealer -
the Renoir Trust consigned it to a
Mid-Atlantic auction and appraisal company Hantman's Associates of
Rockville, Maryland. Paul Renoir, son of the artist's youngest
child Claude, died, aged 79, four months before the May 14, 2005
sale. That sale was to prove disastrous for all parties.
When the archive (offered as a single lot
with a $250,000 low estimate) failed to attract a bid, Hantman's
marketed the collection privately and received a $135,000 offer.
The 'buyer' insisted Hantman's had accepted their offer and filed a
lawsuit asserting their right to the collection, while the Trust
sought damages from the auctioneers after receiving a cheque for
just $100,100, reflecting the proceeds of the sale less Hantman's
The legal machinations that followed
discussed whether the parties had the authority to sell (Hantman's
catalogue contained unusual conditions-of-sale terms regarding the
right of the consignors to sell the material) and whether the case
should be subject to Texan or Maryland law.
That the case was not settled until 2008
ensured it was Hartman's last sale - the 2005 catalogue is still
prominent on the home page of a now redundant website. Heritage say
their vendor, the buyer at the sale in 2005, offers the material
with 'free and clear' title.
From Renoir's own catalogue raisonné and his
dossiers on fake paintings to correspondence with Rodin, Monet and
Manet and prominent dealers and collectors such as Vollard,
Bernheim-Jeune and Durand-Ruel, there is much here of academic and
historical significance. A small still life of two dead
birds,Woodcocks(estimate $80,000-$120,000), the only painting in
the sale, is believed to be Renoir's last work, painted some hours
before he died.
In addition, the sale includes 19 original
plaster maquettes, created during Renoir's twilight years between
1913 and 1918. Although not part of the Hantman sale they were
subsequently acquired by the consignor from the Renoir family.
These too have a history of litigation. As
crippling arthritis had nearly paralysed Renoir's hands, at least
some were made with the help of a young assistant, Richard Guino,
who was recognised by a court as the co-author in 1973. Attempts to
cast the plaster models in bronze editions led to a legal battle
with the Guino family over copyright - a case settled in 2008.