After quietly acquiring artwork over six decades, French actor Alain Delon will auction off his collection at Bonhams in Paris last this month in a sale that could fetch as much as €5m.
Delon, one of France’s most prolific and celebrated actors, is best known for starring in neo-noir classics like The Leopard (1963) and The Samurai (1967).
“There are two things I regard as my legacy; my acting career and my art collection. I am so proud of them both,” Delon said in a statement. “People ask me if there is a thread that binds these pieces together and I say, 'C’est moi!'”
Delon has planned for several years to sell his collection during his lifetime, according to his daughter Anouchka Delon, who is also an actor. She says her 87-year-old father is still in good health and wants to “feel the excitement of giving all this away to new owners”.
“People are very surprised at first that he's selling everything, but are also happy to witness the work because most people know him as an actor, but this is an art collection," Anouchka says. "Maybe they’ll feel the same emotion he could have felt in front of one of those paintings or drawings.”
She compared the sale to when Delon and his family attended the Cannes Film Festival in 2019, where Delon received the honorary Palme d'Or for lifetime achievement, amid controversy over comments Delon made about women and far-right politics in France. “So many actors don't witness things like that before they pass,” Anouchka says. “It was really important to him and to us.”
The sale will be anchored by Raoul Dufy’s La baie de Sainte-Adresse (1906), a beach scene with a €600,000 to €800,000 estimate. Anouchka says the seascape is “very representative of France”. One of Delon’s favourite objects in his collection is a Rembrandt Bugatti panther sculpture that Bonhams estimates will fetch between €250,000 and €300,000. Delon is often portrayed as a panther or lion in French media, Anouchka says, and portrayals of big cats make multiple appearances in his art collection.
“I'm happy that he gets to show it to everyone and how it's going to go to a new family, but it's also heartbreaking because it's like a member of the family,” Anouchka says, pointing out that the texture of the panther sculpture is smoothed down along its spine from being petted so often.
A drawing of a ballet dancer by Edgar Degas hung in her childhood bedroom, Anouchka remembers. The drawing is estimated to sell for between €80,000 and €120,000.
“It was like living in a museum," she says. "I share the same passion for art with my father, and we learned a lot. It was a privilege to have these.”
Delon chose “his art with the heart”, Anouchka says, adding that he didn’t think of his collection as a financial investment or in relation to what was in fashion. Anouchka says her father began collecting Dutch art after being introduced to it by his wife and her mother, Rosalie van Breemen, a model from the Netherlands. He was a fan of landscapes by artist Jan van Goyen (1596-1656), three of which are included in the auction.
“Our father, he loves these scenes. I recognise Holland, with the little houses. You can feel the mist and the cold,” Anouchka says, gesturing to a Van Goyen drawing of a man steering a boat through a village canal that has a €30,000 to €50,000 estimate from Bonhams.
The 84-lot sale will take place 22 June at Bonhams’ Paris salesroom in the 8th arrondissement, and is estimated to sell for between €4m and €5m.
“He hopes it goes to a nice family because we feel this is more of an adoption than a sale," Anouchka says. "You're so attached to each piece. It's like selling your first apartment or your first car, and you have so many memories. So you want people to love the art as much as you did."