A Look Inside Alain Delon: 60 Years of Ardour
Ahead of the sale of the French actor’s private art collection and the associated exhibition Alain Delon: 60 Years of Passion at Bonhams, Prestige talks to his daughter, Anouchka Delon, and the auction house’s CEO, Arnault Cornette De Saint Cyr.
In 1513, German artist Albrecht Dürer etched the stunning engraving, Knight, Death and the Devil. One of his three meisterstiche (master engravings), it was highly influential and has puzzled scholars for centuries. Indeed, the work has inspired subjects as various as the birth of Lewis Carol’s Through the Looking Glass and, most controversially, the “Aryan” ideal of Nazism. Even today, debate continues to swirl around its underlying meaning.
The exceptional detail and rich Gothic symbolism is what distinguishes Knight, Death and the Devil from other such works.
The gloomy knight, gazing doggedly ahead, refuses to be distracted – or seduced – by Death on its pale horse, an hourglass in its hand, or the goat-headed Devil at his rear, which, according to the American art historian Raymond Stites, suggests Dürer’s depiction of “a tangible idea in a world of changing forms”.
Although the engraving is part of the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, a recreation of its power and beauty, sketched on paper by Dürer himself, is part of the remarkable trove of art works collected by the celebrated French actor and Chevalier of the country’s Legion d’Honneur, Alain Delon. Along with many other pieces amassed by the actor, this awe-inspiring drawing is offered by Bonhams Cornette de Saint Cyr in Paris on June 22 in its sale, Alain Delon: 60 Years of Passion. “There’s an underlying theme to this collection,” says Arnault Cornette de Saint Cyr, CEO of Bonhams Cornette de Saint Cyr. “It started with old masters’ drawings and, at the time – we’re talking the 1960s – few people knew about those pieces.” But by the end of the decade, he says, Delon was probably the biggest buyer of old-master drawings.
So what ignited such a passion? How did old masters’ drawings find their way into Delon’s heart? “He was a young and passionate collector, in his early thirties,” says Cornette de Saint Cyr. “To him, old masters’ drawings probably represented the closest state the artwork could get to the thoughts and soul of the artist. They spoke to his instincts, his extensive knowledge of art history and relationship with art.” Indeed, in the ’60s there was little documentation about old masters’ drawings, which required immense patience and dedication to discover and acquire. In 1969, Delon bought Dürer’s Stag Beetle (1505), now a part of the Getty Museum’s collection, for the highest-ever sum paid for an old-master drawing.
The Delon clan held Knight, Death and the Devil in great veneration. As the actor’s daughter Anouchka Delon – herself an actress – explains, “When we were very small, my brother and I thought that Knight, Death and the Devil was our father’s drawing, because the artist has the same initials as he does.” It turns out the initials were made by stamps used by artists to mark their works – and, as a collector, Delon developed his own stamp to mirror that of Dürer.
“He engraved the same initials on the chimney of his country house,” Anouchka recalls. Her words reveal the struggle she faced while watching her father part with such an important symbol. “When [my father] spoke to me about [auctioning his collection off ] four years ago, it broke my heart, because I know how important the collection is to him – it’s the most valuable relationship he has with objects.”
But over the years, Anouchka has adopted her father’s philosophy of art appreciation and ownership. “Art is meant to be passed on,” she declares. “It’s a privilege to enjoy these works for a few years, and this joy should be shared.” Both she and Cornette de Saint Cyr tenderly compare the sale to an adoption, emphasising time and again Delon’s desire to see the pieces in the homes of loving families, who’d appreciate for them as much as he did for the better part of six decades.
Besides the Dürer, Domenico Beccafumi’s Saint Antoine and Arab Horses Fighting in a Stable (1860) by the French romantic Eugene Delacroix rub shoulders with Joan Miró’s playfully surrealist Composition, which, according to Anouchka, was cherished by her mother Rosalie van Breemen. “It was in her office when I was little,” she says, “and it reminds me of her.” She says her mother’s sentiments about the collection are similar to her own. “It pinched my heart when I saw your father was parting with everything,” van Breemen told her daughter, “because I remember how he was so preservative of his collection.”
It’s almost as if each work acts as a mirror that reflects a particular facet of Delon’s personality. He’s often been compared to a lion, so the presence of bronze feline statues in the collection is natural. Rembrandt Bugatti’s Panthére Grognant (1907), for example, remains a testament to such estimation and is still a source of some personal anecdotes of the family.
“When we were in New York with Arnault [Cornette de Saint Cyr], we were touching the Panthére and sensing that the texture on its sides isn’t the same as on the top, where you can ‘feel’ my father’s hand,” Anouchka recalls.
“There’s another of Bugatti’s sculptures – of a lion devouring something,” Cornette de Saint Cyr adds, jumping in. “You can see that the patina on its back is much shinier because Alain Delon was touching it every single day. It shows a lot about his relationship with art.” For Alain, these creations were not mere trophies, designed to be shown off at dinner parties, but rather loyal family companions.
Empowered by her father’s taste and the privilege of being exposed to rare artworks, Anouchka began to develop a collection of her own. “I’m a big fan of street art,” she says, “My first painting was a Keith Haring drawing my father bought for me at Bonhams Cornette de Saint Cyr when I was 12.” Delon’s inscription – “To my daughter, the first piece of her art collection” – graces the back of the piece.
Alain Delon: 60 Years of Passion offers a glimpse into the lifelong pursuit of beauty by one of the most celebrated actors of the 20th century. Like the knight who inspired both Delon and his family, the artworks will now embark on new enticing quests of their own. And isn’t that the greatest honour a work of art could hope for?
Source: Prestige Online