What motivates a collector of the calibre and discernment of Dimitri Mavrommatis? Some years ago, when I first met this extraordinary tastemaker, his enthusiasm for the African sculptures he had only recently started acquiring was infectious. As we looked at the works by Fang artists – their bold forms a reminder of the influence tribal art had on the early Modernists – what was most evident, apart from the quality of what we were admiring, was the great pleasure Mavrommatis clearly took in acquiring, learning about and living with these varied and disparate masterpieces. He has this in common with all great collectors, the delight taken in those journeys of discovery that lead one, via an exhibition, a conversation or an article, on to the saleroom, art fair or gallery and ultimately to the acquisition of a work of art. What sets him apart from others, however, is his expertise in so many fields, from Old Masters to modern and contemporary art, 18th-century French furniture to fine jewellery.
“It was through the Metropolitan Museum of art in New York and the Wallace Collection in London that I first became interested in art,” says Mavrommatis in his Paris apartment. “I spend hours in different museums around the world, to cultivate the eye. If I like something I buy it immediately, and then I find a space to accommodate it in my collection. I learned a lot about Sèvres through looking at the wonderful examples in the Wallace Collection but also by buying pieces and acquiring knowledge as I went.” The impression left by the Wallace’s elegant displays of 18th-century decorative arts was such that within a relatively short period of time the Greek-born financier had built one of the finest private collections of Sèvres porcelain in the world. His prominence in this field, his museum affiliations and the strength of this collection were recognised by the French government when he was made a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2006.
(LEFT) A FANG MASK, N'GIL, GABON, ATOP A LOUIS XVI GILT-BRONZE MOUNTED MARQUETRY BUREAU PLAT, STAMPED J.F. LELEU, CIRCA 1770–1775. © 2014 ESTATE OF PABLO PICASSO / ARTISTS RIGHTS SOCIETY (ARS), NEW YORK. (RIGHT) ALIGHIERO BOETTI'S UNTITLED TOGETHER WITH A HEMBA ANCESTOR FIGURE FROM THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO. © 2014 / ARTISTS RIGHTS SOCIETY (ARS), NEW YORK / SIAE, ROME.
His home in London’s Chester Square was an homage to the best of the 18th century, but in 2008, he decided to part with the house and much of its contents. At the time, he explained, “When I sold my house in Chester Square, I couldn’t bear to put these treasures into storage as I believe objects that are this special should be lived with and appreciated.” And appreciated they were: Sotheby’s London sold the bulk of that extraordinary collection for £10.5 million against a presale estimate of £5.5 million.
Mavrommatis occupies a high profile in the collecting world, and is known for embracing change. In addition to selling extraordinary property at auction – most recently some highly prized magnificent jewels offered at Sotheby’s Geneva, including important stones, such as an exceptional Burmese ruby ring from Graff and several magical pieces by JAR – he is a frequent presence in auction rooms around the world as a buyer. In 2011, press reports focused on his acquisition of several important paintings by Picasso. Mavrommatis’s particularly rich Picasso holdings include the magnificent 1939 portrait of Dora Marr entitled Femme assise, robe bleue. But this collector’s taste is impossible to predict. “I have recently started buying Art Deco furniture,” Mavrommatis says, “including things from the Félix Marcilhac sale [at Sotheby’s Paris] earlier this year.” Objects from that storied collection, including a circa 1928 shagreen, gilt-wood and gilt-bronze cabinet byDominique (André Domin and Marcel Genevrière), are now prominently installed in his Paris home, in which he brilliantly mixes art and furniture spanning three centuries.
(LEFT) YVES KLEIN'S 1962 VICTOIRE DE SAMOTHRACE SITS WITH LUCIO FONTANA'S CERAMIC CONCETTO SPAZIALE AND A LOUIS XV GILT-BRONZE MOUNTED CHINESE WHITE PORCELAIN INKSTAND ATOP A LOUIS XV GILT-BRONZE MOUNTED KINGWOOD PARQUETRY BUREAU PLAT. © 2014 ARTISTS RIGHTS SOCIETY (ARS), NEW YORK / ADAGP, PARIS. © 2014 FONDATION LUCIO FONTANA. (RIGHT) RICHARD SERRA'S UNTITLED AND A RESTING HEAD BY IGOR MITORAJ ARE DISPLAYED ABOVE FRANÇOIS-XAVIER LALANNE'S 1995 WORKS BELIER AND BREBIS. © COURTESY THE ARTIST AND PAUL KASMIN GALLERY. © 2014 RICHARD SERRA / ARTISTS RIGHTS SOCIETY (ARS), NEW YORK.
Here, 18th-century French decorative arts signed by the best makers provide the base for Fang and other African sculpture. These in turn join paintings by Picasso, Paul Gauguin and René Magritte as well as sculptures by Yves Klein. Turn the corner, and witty sheep by François-Xavier Lalanne stand guard under a Richard Serra work on paper. Given the diversity of the collection, if each work of art was not of the same singular quality then it would not achieve the harmony it possesses. “I always try to buy the best,” comments Mavrommatis. “Everything I’ve ever really wanted I’ve bought and I have no regrets,” he says. “As a collector you can’t look back.”
COLLECTOR DIMITRI MAVROMMATIS.
Naturally Mavrommatis has sought the advice of experts when buying, but his independence of taste means the decisions are his alone. “Sometimes even I don’t know what I’m going to buy until I am actually at the auction,” he says. Instinct led him to the superb treasures here just as it will to whatever masterpiece he is drawn to next. When we begin collecting, we begin a journey – the final destination deliciously unknown.
Oscar Humphries is the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of The Art Book.