PARIS – A businessman who introduced American-inspired shopping centres to France among other countries with impressive success and a dedicated polo player whose team was a three-time winner of Deauville’s Coupe d’Or, Hungarian-born tycoon Robert de Balkany collected art and objects with the same energy and panache with which he approached life. De Balkany (1931–2015) married twice, first to a French ambassador’s daughter, Geneviève François-Poncet, and then to Princess Maria Gabriella of Savoy, daughter of Italy's last king, Umberto II. A flamboyant tycoon, de Balkany, who enjoyed yachting, also built his own polo field at his château, Sainte-Mesme, and invited top teams from all over the world to play there (he once declared, “Polo is a lifestyle more than a sport”). He filled his houses including the Paris town house, the magnificent Hôtel de Feuquières in the Rue de Varenne, with English and Italian paintings, furniture and silver of royal provenance, books and works of art which he collected for over 50 years.
ROBERT DE BALKANY.
This September, Sotheby’s Paris in association with Leclère-mdv, will sell 800 works of art from the Robert de Balkany Collection estimated to fetch over €15 million.
“It is one of the most significant collections from an hotel particulier to ever appear in France,” says Mario Tavella, President Director General of Sotheby’s France and Chairman of Sotheby’s Europe. “Mixing paintings by the great Italian and English masters with European furniture, and spectacular works of art alongside decorative pieces, Robert's collection reflects the taste of an audacious and independent man.”
The auction and presale exhibition are scheduled around the Biennale des Antiquaires (10–18 September), when many collectors will be in Paris. Connoisseurs will be delighted to learn that Sotheby’s will arrange visits to the Hôtel de Feuquières to see the splendour of the collection in situ. “It’s important to show the collection in its context,” says Brice Foisil, Sotheby’s Senior Director, Head of French and Continental furniture. “The collection was put together over half a century, each object has its place.”
AN EXCEPTIONAL ITALIAN SILVER AND GILT-BRONZE MOUNTED EBONY AND PIETRA DURA
CABINET, ROME, CIRCA 1620, FROM POPE PAUL V BORGHESE. ESTIMATE UPON REQUEST.
Indeed, every inch of space seems occupied by a fascinating object. In the formal reception rooms, there are two hooded Capuchin chairs which once belonged to Carlos de Beistegui, the eccentric tastemaker and silver-mine scion who was one of de Balkany’s inspirations. Then there is the magnificent, museum-quality circa 1620 Roman gilt-bronze and silver mounted pietre dure, ebony cabinet inlaid with colourful and naturally patterned hard stones (above). This cabinet once belonged to Pope Paul V Borghese, and later to King George IV, who kept it at Windsor Castle. From there it went to Buckingham Palace until it was sold, in 1959, to de Balkany’s father, who bought it on his son’s advice, demonstrating Robert de Balkany's fascination for hardstones from an early age.
A MAGNIFICENT INTERIOR OF THE HÔTEL DE FEUQUIÈRES.
In his accumulation of objects and dedication to elaborate comfort, Robert de Balkany was influenced by le goût Rothschild: the lavish, layered, abundant aesthetic associated with the powerful dynasty. “The taste for combining Renaissance and 18th-century masterworks was part of the Rothschild ambiance and Robert elaborated on that, almost creating a Balkany taste,” says Foisil. De Balkany’s taste was broad: an important set of French furniture by the royal cabinetmaker Bernard Molitor, a Tintoretto naval battle scene, spectacular silver including a tureen that is part of the only surviving French royal dinner service and a particular passion for clocks – 60 of them – made by the greatest 17th-century makers, including a musical clock by Charles Clay and the Day and Night clock, a masterpiece by Andre-Charles Boulle and Abraham Gilbert. When de Balkany was at home, “someone came every week to rewind them,” Foisil explains. Today, they are silent, but back then, “it was tick, tick, tick in every room,” he says.
ANTHONY VAN DYCK, PORTRAIT OF THE COUNTESS OF CARNARVON. ESTIMATE €800,000–€1,200,000.
Legendary decorators immortalised in the watercolours by Serebriakoff and others, contributed to the hôtel interiors. Henri Samuel did the top floor private apartments, Jacques Garcia arranged the Empire-furnished fumoir and, with Federico Forquet, de Balkany oversaw the décor of the formal reception rooms. In the grand salon, sumptuous yellow sofas provide a seat from which to view the intriguing Anthony van Dyck portrait of the Countess of Carnarvon (whose country house now serves as television's Downton Abbey) placed above Boulle’s gilded bronze lavish medal cabinets. The stunning Salon Rouge with red satin damask covered sofas and green malachite tables and ornaments is a decorative sensation. “It’s not only an 18th-century collection, but one that reveals the esprit of its collector,” Foisil emphasizes. “It is a tribute to all the different tastes from Grand Furniture to Grand Décor. That’s what makes it quite unique.”