On 15 October 2015, Sotheby’s offered at auction the unique library of Stéphane Mallarmé, bequeathed to his beloved daughter in 1898. As Benoît Puttemans, specialist in the books and manuscripts department, explains: “this was an extraordinary library, and the results were extraordinary as well. The sale of this marvellous collection, which has remained in private hands for 120 years, and came from one of France’s greatest poets, was one of the most exciting literary events of the past few years.”
This immersion in the private world of a brilliant writer conquered many hearts from private collector Marcel Brient to the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and the Paul Valéry Museum. Competition for the 283 lots drove the final result to €4,456,651 exceeding the pre-sale estimate of €1.9 to €2.8 million, with 89% of lots sold and 98% by value.
The sale’s top lots were the various stages of the manuscript and printed versions of Mallarmé’s legendary poem Un Coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le Hasard, from the first rough draft manuscript right through to the 1914 first edition. This group of five lots illustrating the poet’s fascinating creative process fetched €1,158,000. The autograph notes, sketches and drafts of Un coup de dés, published in 1897, were bought for €62,500 by the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and the autograph manuscript of the poem was bought by Marcel Brient for €963,000 to resounding applause after a lengthy bidding battle between collectors in the room.
Other lots were also highly sought-after. Such as Mallarmé’s exceptional and unique copy of Les Fleurs du Mal by Charles Baudelaire from 1861, which sold for €363,000, Edgar Allan Poe’s poem Le Corbeau (The Raven) translated by Mallarmé, illustrated by Manet and sold to the Bibliothèque nationale de France for €195,000, as well as his short poem written on a pebble found in Honfleur which soared to €77,400 , far above its estimate.
When Stéphane Mallarmé died in 1898, his library and archives stayed in the hands of his beloved daughter, Geneviève. This is the provenance of the books and manuscripts in this sale, an incredibly rich literary estate.
The auction presents a comprehensive synopsis of Mallarmé’s oeuvre: his most valuable works (Geneviève’s copy of L’Après-midi d’un faune on Japan; Mallarmé’s translation of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven illustrated with lithographs by Manet; the legendary magazine La Dernière Mode, entirely written by Mallarmé in 1874; and his Préface à Vathek), the letters he wrote (to Deman, Beardsley, Huysmans, Berthe Morisot and Verlaine) or received (Valery, Manet, Whistler and Wilde), photographs (including the famous portrait of Mallarmé and Renoir by Degas), many books his contemporaries sent him (Gide, Huysmans, Leconte de L'Isle, Louÿs, Schwob, Moréas, Verlaine, Zola) and some books from his personal library, such as Les Fleurs du Mal by Baudelaire, whose condemned poetry was recopied by Mallarmé in the 1861 edition.
The highlights of this collection are perhaps the manuscript of Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard (24 p.) and manuscripts from his youth, including a translation of Poe's poems.