Gunter Sachs and Brigitte Bardot on the day of their wedding in Las Vegas in 1966.

LONDON - Towards the end of his charmed life, Gunter Sachs observed with wry humour that, whatever he might have accomplished, he would forever be labeled “the German playboy.”

He was not complaining. Gunter Sachs lived up to his reputation, the apogee of which was his 1966 union with Brigitte Bardot. When they met in St. Tropez, she was as magnetized by him as he was by her. “I thought he was magnificent. I was hypnotized,” she later wrote. “I have never known a man like him. I felt mad, serene, wonderstruck.”

Gunter Sachs and Brigitte Bardot, who were married from 1966-1969.

The next day, lest there be any doubt about his feelings, he had a helicopter fly over her home on the Cote d’Azur and shower it with thousands of red roses. Two months later they were wed in Las Vegas, then jetted to Tahiti for their honeymoon.

Born in 1932 in Southern Germany, he was a great-grandson of Adam Opel, founder of the automobile company; his father was Willy Sachs, owner of Fichtel & Sachs, one of Germany’s biggest auto suppliers.

Sachs, who died last May at the age of 78, long reigned as one of Europe’s wealthiest, most handsome and charming gentlemen. From the late 1950s onward, he was at its social epicentre, from Paris and the Riviera to St. Moritz and Gstaad.

In his later years, Sachs looked askance at younger gentlemen who might want to claim that title he and  a few other members of his generation earned. “There were only 12 playboys–not more–in the world. We were charming, and spoke languages and behaved well with women.”

But his species had died out, he lamented. “First, I think that almost all the fun in the world has gone. And, second, to go with a girl to Tahiti [then] was something incredible. Now everybody goes to Tahiti. This generation now has all the luck. They can do anything, but it’s less fun.”

While Sachs’ social and romantic exploits became legendary, they deflected attention away from his real talents, however. He became a talented photographer and documentary filmmaker, as well as one of the visionary collectors of the 20th century.

This last accomplishment is highly evident in The Gunter Sachs Collection, to be sold at Sotheby’s London on 22–23 May. (Read James Sevier’s posts on the Gunter Sachs Collection).

While the family is keeping many treasures, close to 300 artworks and objects will be offered, spanning numerous categories, from Surrealism and Nouveau Realism to Pop Art and Art Deco.

Many of these items Sachs purchased directly from the artists or commissioned–most notably several works by Andy Warhol. The two met in the early 1960s in St. Tropez and became lifelong friends. In 1972, Sachs presented one of Warhol’s first large exhibitions in Europe, at his recently opened gallery in Hamburg.

Sachs and Warhol, photographed here in 1972, first met in 1967 in St. Tropez, and remained friends until the artist's death in 1987.

It was a disaster. Not a single picture sold on the opening night. To spare the artist embarrassment, Sachs secretly bought half the show. Later, of course, he would be grateful that the citizens of Hamburg had not yet awoken to the merits of Pop Art.

One of the star lots in the Gunter Sachs Collection is Warhol’s portrait of Brigitte Bardot, which Sachs commissioned in 1974. Based on a 1959 photograph of the actress by Richard Avedon–a work also included in the sale–it was created according to Sachs’ specifications in the same oversized square format as Warhol’s 1972 portrait of Sachs himself.

The work is a glorious and enduring testament to one of the great affairs of the 20th century–which did not last, as is not unusual in these matters.

After three years, Sachs and Bardot went their separate ways. But they remained always fond of each other. Ever elegant and romantic, Sachs sent Bardot–who asked for no alimony–a sizeable diamond on the 10th anniversary of their divorce.

“We lived our life wildly and passionately. Then we separated as naturally as we met,” he said.

Sachs had meanwhile wasted no time finding love again. Months after his divorce, he married Mirja Larsson, a Swedish model, a union that lasted until his death. A four-decade marriage might have prevented some other men from being called a playboy, but that was part of Sachs’ charm. (Sachs’ first wife, with whom he had a son, artist and designer Rolf Sachs, was killed in 1958.) “I could not have enjoyed life as a bachelor,” he said.

Gunter Sachs with his wife Mirja and their son in 1972. 

Gunter and Mirja, who had two sons, spent much of the last decades in Switzerland, first in St. Moritz, where he maintained a penthouse in the Palace Hotel, and then in Gstaad, in a 12-bedroom chalet built in 1650.

“It was the most ritzy place I had ever been in,” recalls Pop Artist Allen Jones of the St. Moritz apartment. A further highlight of the sale is the complete set (chair, table and hat-stand) of Jones’ mannequin furniture (1969) from a bedroom there.

Jones fondly remembers meeting Sachs when he and his wife were invited to spend the weekend at the St. Moritz penthouse. As a typically buoyant party finally waned, Sachs’ good friend Gianni Agnelli said he wanted to spend the night. “But Gunter told him ‘The Joneses were there.’ Agnelli, thinking he meant my sculptures, said, ‘Don’t worry, I won’t touch them!’”

Join Cheyenne Westphal, Oliver Barker and James Sevier as they introduce the life and art collection of the legendary Gunter Sachs in this video produced by Sotheby's.

James Reginato is writer-at-large of Vanity Fair.

[This article originally appeared in Sotheby's at Auction. To subscribe click here.]

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