PARIS - Sotheby’s announced the auction, on 18 March in Paris, of the private collection of the Dillée family, a renowned Parisian dynasty of specialists and collectors of furniture and works of art. Consisting of 450 lots, the sale will be divided into two sessions, including French decorative arts from the 17th to the 19th centuries, Old Master paintings and drawings, bronzes, scientific objects and Antique arms.
Mario Tavella, Deputy Chairman of Sotheby’s Europe and Chairman Private Collections, said: “Our auction house is deeply honoured to be entrusted once again with the sale of an iconic collection of works of art, which, in this instance, has been carefully selected by the expert eyes of three generations of the Dillée family. Their Cabinet d’Expertise has seen some of the most beautiful objects go through its doors before being passed onto collectors, auction houses and institutions. We are hoping that the Dillée sale will attract new and old generations of collectors, as well as the notable museums that the Dillée family has dealt with in the past.”
For nearly a century, the name of Dillée has been inextricably linked with the art market and the auction world. Founded in 1925 by Bernard Dillée, then taken over by his son Jean-Pierre, the Cabinet has been headed by Guillaume Dillée since 1995, after a seven-year collaboration with his father. In turn, the three men each exercised their trade as specialists in furniture and works of art from the 17th and 18th Centuries.
Over the last few decades, they have assisted the main Paris auctioneers and have taken part in the most important auctions staged in all the capital's legendary venues: the Hôtel Drouot, the Galerie Charpentier, the Palais Galliera and the Musée d’Orsay. Professionals recognised for their knowledge and expertise, they were also passionate collectors, building up a body of works whose sale has now been entrusted to Sotheby's France. The primarily 18th Century furniture, works of art, paintings and drawings it contains bear witness to a solid, precise taste guided by knowledge and erudition.
This remarkable collection was assembled by three generations, each having received the heritage of the previous one, and each having helped to pass on a certain taste. It includes rare objects of great charm, previously unseen on the market, which will appeal to seasoned enthusiasts who love beautiful pieces. All these objects symbolise the perpetuation of unique knowledge and reflect a family tradition based on a shared passion for the French 18th century and its lifestyle.
Today, having spent 26 years travelling all over France in search of masterpieces, Guillaume Dillée wishes to develop the international aspect of his business. Given the growing interest in European decorative arts of an emerging foreign clientele who recently began to approach him, he has decided to open an acquisition consultancy firm in Melbourne and settle permanently in Australia – a country where there is a flourishing community of new art-loving buyers with considerable knowledge of Europe and its museums. He eventually hopes to rejuvenate his activity and flourish throughout the Asia/Pacific zone.
FURNITURE AND WORKS OF ART
This magnificent pair of ewers in crackled celadon and gilt bronze from the French Regency period (estimate: ˆ400,000-600,000 / $460,000-690,000) are reminiscent of a similar model that belonged to the Dodge, Roberto Polo and Edmond Safra collections in turn. A drawing by Gabriel de Saint-Aubin in a copy of the 1769 Caignat sale catalogue indicates that this famous collector also owned a pair of these models. They stand out for the remarkable quality of the bronze mountings, dragon-entwined handles and spouts decorated with shells and coral branches.
Also noteworthy are a pair of Louis XVI patinated gilt bronze wall lamps with cannons (estimate: ˆ200,000-300,000 / $230,000-345,000), similar to the models in the Geoffroy and Lagerfeld collections, but with the distinctive feature of being stamped with the arms of France on the cannon barrels. The design, name and mottos engraved on the Louis XIV artillery cannons now in Les Invalides are repeated in every particular in the pair here, which were certainly made for someone who occupied an important military position under Louis XVI.
A pair of Louis XV flat-backed armchairs in gilt beechwood, c. 1765-1770 (estimate: ˆ120,000-180,000 / $140,000-200,000) combine a beautifully mastered design with carving of a remarkable quality. These elegant chairs illustrate the virtuosity of great masters like Nicolas-Quinibert Foliot and Jean-Baptiste Tilliard, who adapted the revived Classical style to cabinetmaking.
A pair of Louis XV pot-pourri jars in Meissen porcelain and gilt bronze (estimate: ˆ120,000-180,000/ $140,000-200,000) are sure to appeal to enthusiasts. Originally, they probably formed a set of three vases with the one in the former collection of the financier Beaujon. Period documents indicate that the Marquise de Pompadour, a great lover of this highly singular porcelain, also owned several similar models.
Echoing the exhibition on the secret of French lacquer techniques held at the Paris Musée des Arts Décoratifs last spring, this Louis XV clock with Barbary apes in lacquered bronze, with a face signed by Mesnil in Paris (estimate: ˆ50,000-80,000 / $58,000-90,000), is a fine example of the "chinoiseries" that fascinated aesthetes of the period. Its lacquered bronze figures are a refined example of this particular taste. The Duchesse du Maine, well-known for her interest in lacquerwork, owned a clock that corresponds to the model here, according to a detailed description in her post-mortem inventory.
The collection also contains a fine selection of sculptures, starting with two bronzes: The River Tiber as a God, Italy, 17th century, forming a pair with The Nile (France, 18th century; each estimated at ˆ30,000-50,000 / $35,000-58,000). These two bronzes are allegorical representations of the two great rivers of the Roman era: the Tiber and the Nile. The celebrated life-size marbles discovered in 1512 and 1523 were particularly admired in France.
Terracottas are also in the limelight, with another River God by Jean-Jacques Caffieri, c. 1772 (estimate: ˆ30,000-40,000 / $35,000-46,000). A similar terracotta by Le Lorrain, perhaps a matching figure, is now in the Musée du Louvre. A version of this model in patinated plaster once belonged to the Jules Strauss collection, and an identical terracotta can be found in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.
An enamel medallion painted by Léonard Limosin (c. 1540, estimate: ˆ25,000-40,000 / $29,000-46,000) represents the goddess Ops personifying Abundance surrounded by winged cupids playing various games. For this iconography, the artist found his source in an engraving of 1526 by Giacopo Caraglio, based on a painting by Rosso Fiorentino. One of the most celebrated enamellers of Limoges, Léonard Limosin worked for Francis I, for whom he notably painted enamel portraits.
OLD MASTER PAINTINGS AND DRAWINGS
The sale's Old Master paintings and drawings include a Portrait of the artist Houel, painted in 1772 by François André Vincent (estimate: ˆ8,000-12,000 / $9,000-14,000), a multi-facetted artist who tried his hand at genre and history painting, and even caricature. He particularly excelled in the art of the portrait, and here pays tribute to his friend, the landscape painter Jean Pierre Houel, then at the height of his fame, who is shown in the wig and costume of a gentleman. Influenced by his European predecessors, including Fragonard and Van Loo, Vincent clearly demonstrates his immense talent here.
We can also mention a Still Life with basket of flowers, fruit and shells by the Dutch master Balthasar Van der Ast (estimate: ˆ80,000-120,000 / $90,000-140,000), where fresh flowers arranged in a basket display their fragile corollas. Their pastel, slightly faded colours stand out against a dark background – a subtle allusion to vanity. Close to the painter Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder, his brother-in-law, Van der Ast was an eminent member of the Bosschaert dynasty, who specialised in still lifes.
Around fifty French 17th and 18th century drawings provide the crowning touch to this collection. They include a View of the Invalides by Jacques Rigaud (estimate: ˆ20,000-25,000 ˆ / $23,000-29,000), several gouaches by Jean-Baptiste Mallet, and a number of drawings by anonymous artists, like this delicate pair depicting birds (estimate: ˆ10,000-15,000 / $11,500-17,000).
We come finally to various scientific objects, such as a rare Louis XV micrometer microscope (estimate: ˆ60,000-100,000), and around ten weapons. These include two Royal Hammerless rifles by the prestigious brand H & H (estimate: ˆ4,000-6,000 / $4,500-7,000).