São and Pierre Schlumberger at Quinta do Vinagre, Portugal, with Adolph Gottlieb's Red & Blue, 1962/1965 (estimate $2–3 million). Image Courtesy The Schlumberger Collection.
NEW YORK - Audacious, extravagant, brilliant, formidable, astonishing. Those were just a few of the words used to describe São Schlumberger, the Portuguese beauty who became an influential arts patroness and hostess. Conventional was the last thing anybody would have called her
In 1961, São married French aristocrat Pierre Schlumberger, president of his family’s oil field-services company (the world’s largest) and, like many of his relatives, a leading art collector. Together, they enlarged his venerable art collection – filled with such artists as Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse – and added works by contemporary masters including Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb.
“Throughout her life she was so supportive of artists. Young artists, particularly,” remembers author Bob Colacello, a close friend. “I don’t recall ever going with her to an exhibition of a young artist where she didn’t buy something. She knew it would be helpful for them to be able to say their work was in the Schlumberger Collection.”
Wherever she lived, Mrs Schlumberger brought her distinctive style. The early years of her marriage were spent in Houston, where Schlumberger Ltd. relocated after the Second World War, and where she had cordial relations with Pierre’s cousin, Dominique de Menil, the visionary collector and co-founder of the Menil Collection.
But it was after the couple arrived in Paris that São truly blossomed. Pierre renovated the Hôtel de Luzy, a five-storey mansion on the Rue Férou, and the couple made it a place to view great art as well as to meet artists. Mrs Schlumberger threw countless lunches and dinners for artists ranging from Man Ray – a neighbour and close friend – to Salvador Dalí, Lee Krasner, Warhol and Ross Bleckner.
“Curiosity was in her DNA,” recalls former Vogue editor-at-large André Leon Talley, another close friend. “She was au courant about everything, and loved meeting artists, writers. São was one of the first hostesses in Paris to mix the demimonde with society. She had Warhol’s Factory with the Rothschilds.
While Pierre Schlumberger had his portrait made by Graham Sutherland, a leading postwar British artist, Mrs Schlumberger was among the first Europeans to commission a portrait from Warhol. He returned the favour by doing something unique for her four-panel portrait. “Instead of four panels of the same pose in different colours – which is what he usually did – he gave São two of one pose and two of another,” says Colacello. “He did it because he really liked her. He pretended he liked everybody – especially if they were a client. But with São it was genuine.”
Her patronage extended across many disciplines. She was one of the earliest champions of director Robert Wilson, whom she met in Paris following his first stage production there in 1971. Mrs Schlumberger gave him $75,000 to produce Einstein on the Beach and remained one of his strongest supporters and closest friends. In 1995 she provided pivotal support to then-fledgling designer John Galliano, who staged one his first shows in the Hôtel de Luzy.
Following Pierre’s death, São remained a devoted board member of New York’s MoMA and the Centre Pompidou, presiding over many fundraisers, luncheons and dinners. By all accounts, up until the end of her own life, São continued to bring together artists and society figures in a glittering style that is unlikely to be equalled.
James Reginato is writer-at-large of Vanity Fair.
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