The Lagerfeld Collection: “We all have to live in our own times”

The couturier’s change to a minimalist lifestyle moved him to dispense with all his eighteenth-century furniture, his paintings, and decorative arts



The couturier, Karl Lagerfeld, and Christie’s, who organised the sale of his collection on 28 and 29 April in Monaco, had to make do with a partial success. The takings, FFr155 million (£14 million; $22 million) correspond to the average for each estimate.

All the top Parisian antique dealers were at the sale, hoping no doubt to take advantage of a slack period and to carry off some fine pieces. There was some discontent, in fact, because their names were not listed in the catalogue among the prestigious provenances. More than 96% of the 389 lots, estimated at a total of between FFr120-180 million, found a purchaser, producing FFr155.8 million, 92.5% of value.

The party would have had more sparkle if the objects could have been displayed and then sold in the residence of Karl Lagerfeld—but repeated delays in implementing reform of the French auction law did not allow this.

The collection was put on show in mid-March in Christie’s premises in Paris, which proved too small to house such a large collection. Some of the pieces, for example sculpture and silver, may also have been diminished by being shown as if they were simply decorative items, rather than appearing in a specialised catalogue. The result was that the Louis XV group in chased bronze by Etienne-Maurice Falconet, depicting two young women as an allegory of “The fountainhead” and estimated at FFr3-5 million, failed to find a purchaser. Another sculpture, an allegory of geometry, fetched FFr282,000, compared with an estimate of FFr500,000-800,000.

Some of the estimates and high reserve prices (FFr6-10 million for a set of three Louis XVI mantelpiece vases, knocked down finally for FFr4.8 million) may have discouraged purchasers. The tester beds so much favoured by the designer aroused little enthusiasm. The Louis XV bed, with goffered silk-velvet hangings by Louis Delannoy, was sold for FFr352,000, whereas the estimate was FFr500-800,000.

Chairs sold very well. A Louis XV armchair attributed to Jean Boucault, estimated at FFr1-1.5 million, fetched FFr2.7 million, and a suite of six small Louis XVI armchairs by Louis Delannoy fetched FFr3.3 million.

The French government pre-empted three lots, including a series of eighteenth-century Gobelins tapestries from the Château de la Roche Guyon (to which they will be returned) and a bust of the architect Wailly by “the studio of Augustin Pajou” (according to Christie’s catalogue). Sold as an autograph Pajou by Nicolas Kugel for FFr800,000, it was auctioned for FFr220,000 to the dealer before being bought by the government for the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lille. “I suggested to Karl Lagerfeld that I buy it back for the price he had paid for it when he told me that Christie’s had decided to attribute it to the studio of Augustin Pajou”, said Nicolas Kugel.

The sale of Mr Lagerfeld’s collection of mainly eighteenth-century French paintings took place at Christie’s New York on 23 May.

Karl Lagerfeld has rid himself of his fan, sunglasses, pig-tail and all the luxury of eighteenth-century France and is heading for a minimalist lifestyle. This is a drastic change for him, as his love affair with France started early. The son of well-to-do north Germans, he tells how, aged seven, he had a “coup de foudre” in front of a painting by Menzel of Frederick the Great at Sans Souci. Its elegance epitomised from then onwards how he thought life should be lived. Now, Mr Lagerfeld’s new home near Biarritz is designed by the world famous Japanese architect Tadao Ando. “We are building a house from the very beginning”, explained Mr Lagerfeld, “ I am tired of restoring, we all have to live in our own times and create our own environment. I will need very few possessions as Tadeo Ando will even make the furniture of which there will be very little, just a desk, a bed and a table certainly no carpet, textiles, curtains or wall papers and lighting will be done with James Turrell lighting installations.” This extraordinary change of atmosphere signals a major change in Karl Lagerfeld’s life style. “I am no longer interested in the social scene”, he explained, “No more parties, just the working life, I shall be more relaxed and much less formal, relaxed but highly disciplined is how I would describe my new life style.”

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as ‘“We all have to live in our own times”'