With an eclectic selection spanning Italian Old Master drawings, works by major names of French Romanticism, animalier bronzes and paintings by 20th century masters, there is no shortage of breadth and range in the art collection of the actor Alain Delon (b.1935).
Delon, famous for appearances in films such as The Leopard, La Piscine and Notre Histoire, has been a serious art collector for decades. It started with his rise to fame (“…I bought my first drawing in London when I was 24 and I’ve acquired works ever since”, he recalls).
This early start was reflected in Alain Delon: 60 years of Passion, the title of the auction of 83 of his works offered in Paris by Bonhams Cornette de Saint Cyr (28/27/21/14.5% buyer’s premium) on June 22.
Old Master drawings were an early passion that began for Delon when they were still a relatively undervalued sector of the market. He soon turned into a major collector and player in this field, notably purchasing a drawing of a beetle by Albrecht Dürer in 1969 at Sotheby’s for £58,000, an auction record at the time for an Old Master drawing. The work is now in the Getty Museum.
Delon’s interests later turned to French Romantic artists of the 19th century and he also collected 19th and 20th century animalier sculpture.
These enthusiasms were reflected in the sale content. Around half the lots in Bonhams’ auction comprised works on paper, many of them Old Master drawings by Italian, Dutch and Flemish artists.
The sale also had a sizeable slice of works by Jean-François Millet; Eugène Delacroix and Théodore Géricault and animalier bronzes that ranged from works by Antoine-Louis Barye to Rembrandt Bugatti and Lucien Guyot.
Many of the works came with notable provenances having previously belonged to other artists.
It was a sale that generated plenty of enthusiasm and a packed auction room. Only two lots failed to change hands and the premium-inclusive total of over €8m was double the low estimate.
Topping the bill was a 20th century painting of the Normandy coast, a 1906 view of the beach at Sainte-Adresse by Raoul Dufy (1877-1953).
This was an early work from Dufy’s brief Fauve period painted in strong colours, a view of the bay in his Normandy home town to which he returned from Paris for a period in 1905-06.
The 2ft 1½ x 2ft 8in (65 x 81cm) painting, which is signed and dated lower right, had belonged to fellow artist Maurice Denis who acquired it from Dufy at the Salon des Indépendants’ exhibition of 1906. The work sold in June for €800,000 (£695,650), the upper end of the estimate.
It was one of Delon’s works by Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) that realised the second-highest price of the day.
The artist’s 14½ x 18½in (37 x 47cm) signed oil on canvas of an Arab horse tied to a stake was dated to c.1825 when Delacroix was in England. The accessories and armour worn by the standing figure in the painting are thought to have been inspired by objects seen in the collection of arms and armour belonging to Samuel Rush Meyrick who Delacroix visited when in England.
The painting came with a certificate of authenticity from the Eugène Delacroix Committee.
Like the Dufy, the Delacroix had an earlier artist provenance, in this instance to three of his contemporaries: the painters Hippolyte Poterle, Paul Huet and Amable-Paul Coutan.
Last under the hammer in 2001 at a Gros & Delettrez sale in Paris, in the Delon sale it realised €610,000 (£530,435) against a guide of €300,000-500,000.
Three animalier bronzes featured among the sale’s top lots, all feline subjects by the Italian animalier sculptor Rembrandt Bugatti (1884-1916) and all cire perdue casts with the stamp of the Hébrard foundry.
The most expensive was a signed 11¼ x 21¾ x 9in (28.5 x 55 x 22.5cm) bronze of a seated lioness yawning, a model designed and executed in 1903 and one of an edition of four.
Acquired from a Sotheby’s London sale in 1990, this was hammered down for €420,000 (£365,220) against a guide of €250,000-350,000.
Bugatti’s signed striking study of a growling panther measuring 14¾ x 23½ x 9½in (37.5 x 60 x 24.5cm) including its original marble base, is a model conceived and executed c.1907 and one which Bugatti modelled on the spot in his open air studio without the use of preparatory sketches.
One of an edition of six, this realised €400,000 (£347,825) against a €250,000-300,000 guide.
An 11in x 3ft ½in x 15in (28 x 93 x 38cm) model of a seated lion eating, signed and dated 1908 and numbered 1 from an edition of 3, followed on at €380,000 (£330,435).
Beccafumi at the double
Delon’s master drawings were led, as expected, by his double-sided drawing by the Sienese late Renaissance artist Domenico Beccafumi (c.1486-1551).
The 8 x 5in (20 x 12cm) drawing, in brown ink, wash and pen, features a saint standing holding a cross and a rosary to one side and two kneeling women to the other. It is executed with short light pen strokes, trembling contours and a network of hatching to suggest modelling that is typical of the graphic style practised by the artist c.1520.
Delon acquired it in 1973, purchased from a Sotheby’s sale for £2200 via the dealer Yvonne van Bunzl who advised him on his drawing purchases. At Bonhams it realised €190,000 (£165,220) against a €50,000-80,000 guide.
Other Old Masters included a 3½ x 2in (9 x 5cm) pen and ink drawing by Paolo Veronese (1528-88) of St George slaying the dragon that had once belonged to Sir Joshua Reynolds and which Delon acquired at a Sotheby’s sale in 1969 for £2000. Here it sold for €65,000 (£56,520) while a pen, ink and wash study of Christ on the Cross by Guercino (1591-1666) realised €110,000 (£95,650).
The 7½ x 5in (19 x 13cm) work was a study for the figure of Christ in the Crucifixion altarpiece with Saints Elizabeth of Hungary and Frances of Rome from 1630 in the Potocki Chapel of Wawel Cathedral in Krakow, Poland, and formerly belonged to Sir Thomas Lawrence. Delon acquired it in 1972 at a Sotheby’s sale of the Ellesmere collection for £11,000.
Apart from the Arab horse tied to a stake, 19th century French art included one other Delacroix and two works by Gericault (plus a third attributed to him), a landscape by Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot (1796- 1875) and no fewer than four works by Jean-François Millet (1814-75).
‘I adore Millet’
Millet is an artist that Delon particularly admires. “I adore Millet, he’s my god of drawing”, he observed in an interview with Harry Bellet published in 2007 in Le Monde.
Two of these Millets were among the 10 top sellers of the day. Peasant women resting beside a river is an 18¼ x 15in (46 x 38cm) oil on canvas that was painted c.1850, the transitional period when the artist was moving from Romanticism to his mature Realist style. It was unknown to scholars until it appeared auction at Christie’s in 1979. Here it sold for €190,000, (£165,220).
The artist’s 14½ x 11½ (36.5 x 29cm) charcoal drawing of a Normandy milkmaid holding a jug on her shoulder from 1847-8, a subject he tackled on several occasions, was previewed in ATG No 2590. It realised €170,000 (£147,825).
The Corot landscape, a distant view of Genoa, made another of the top prices at €180,000 (£156,520).
The artist made several trips to Italy beginning in 1820 and in May 1834 stopped in the city until mid June before going on to spend six weeks in Tuscany. Corot produced three views of Genoa, this one showing the outskirts of the city with the Appenines in the distance.
Painted in oil on paper laid down on canvas, it measures 9½ x 15¾in (24.5 x 40cm) and bears the stamp of Corot’s posthumous sale in 1875 and the artist’s red wax seal.
Van Goyen watercolours
Only a handful of watercolour drawings by the Dutch landscape artist Jan Josefsz van Goyen (1598-1665) are known today. It seems to have been a technique that he used early in his career, later moving to black chalk.
Of the five examples identified, two belonged to Delon. They each measure 4½ x 8½in (11 x 22cm), are signed I V Goyen 1626 and are executed in black chalk, watercolour and bodycolour.
One depicts a spring landscape with a village and canal with two men in a boat, the other is a winter villagescape with a single boatman on the canal.
Having the same dimensions and date, the two views can be considered as counterparts although they have different earlier provenances and seem to have been reunited only when they appeared at an auction in June 1975 at Sotheby’s Mak van Waay, Amsterdam, and acquired by Delon.
At Bonhams’ sale in June they were offered separately with the spring landscape selling for €70,000 (£60,870) and the winterscape for €45,000 (£39,130).
The sale also featured a third slightly larger work on paper by van Goyen, a later 6¾ x 10¾in (17 x 27.5cm) chalk and wash drawing signed and dated VG 1653 which Delon had purchased in 1969 at an auction at Drouot in Paris.
This work, which showed a frozen winter landscape with people fishing on the ice, sold for €32,000 (£27,825).