One snowy winter day in the mid-1970s, during one of my regular stays in Gstaad, I took the opportunity to visit a Belgian couple with an exceptional collection of paintings. I had met Louis and Evelyn Franck in Sotheby’s Bond Street galleries at one of our Impressionist sales and they had invited me to visit them when I was next in Switzerland. That crisp bright morning I arrived at Chalet Arno to be warmly met by Louis and Evelyn. Walking into the large, comfortable drawing room that had a majestic view over the Bernese Alps, I was astonished to be confronted by one of the finest van Goghs in a private collection, accompanied by equally impressive works by Cézanne, Picasso and Ensor. Handing me a glass of champagne, Louis, a large, imposing man of great charm, then sat me down and began asking me about the market, recent buyers, the dealers we both knew and other famous residents of Gstaad. I felt that these pictures were a natural part of their lives and surroundings, not shown off to impress visitors. They were simply part of the family, like everything else in the Chalet, in impeccable taste.
Louis soon realised that my eyes were wandering about the room and that I was keen to have a closer look at the pictures. As we walked around, Louis was anxious to hear my comments; just talking about them gave him much pleasure, especially when he saw how ecstatic I was. The van Gogh was a revelation, as it was precisely these paintings of Arles that I had fallen in love with as a child. However many pictures I saw every year, coming across a masterpiece was an exciting event, always fresh and new. What I love about Paysage sous un ciel mouvementé are its superb colours that make you feel you were standing in the middle of the landscape – looking in, not looking out. In the deep foreground, a meadow, covered in wild flowers, provides a lively setting to a distant view of the outskirts of Arles in Provence. Then this serene view is offset by dramatic, stormy clouds, painted in heavy swirling strokes that transmit physically the power and menace of the wind.
A unique feature of this distinguished collection is the group of three masterpieces by the great Belgian symbolist painter James Ensor. François Franck, an important interior decorator in Antwerp, was Ensor’s patron and an important collector of his works. Louis inherited several of these great paintings, and added to the collection by purchasing Ensor’s masterwork, Christ’s Entry into Brussels, which Louis subsequently sold to the Getty Museum for a large sum in 1981. The three paintings in the collection are each superb, including The Melancholic Fisherwomen which I had the pleasure of buying for Louis over the telephone when it came up for sale at Sotheby’s New York. Louis had been very keen to acquire this painting as it had once belonged to his family and it served as a replacement for Christ’s Entry into Brussels, which had been too large to hang in the Chalet.
This was the first of many memorable visits to Chalet Arno and once Louis had passed away, Gstaad was no longer the same to me. To see these pictures again brings back warm memories of Evelyn and Louis, a true gentleman collector. It will be a privilege for Sotheby’s to present such an exquisite, personal collection with the honour and excitement it deserves.
Former Head of Impressionist & Modern Art,
Sotheby's London 1961-2000
17 - 18 September 2015
19 - 20 September 2015
30 September - 1 October 2015
2 - 5 October 2015
10 - 15 October 2015