War hero, artist and “the most handsome man in Europe” were just some of the epithets attached to the French artist Bernard Boutet de Monvel (second picture) in his lifetime. Now, nearly 70 years after his death, collectors have the chance to own both his own work and other items with which he surrounded himself at his Saint-Germain-des-Prés studio (third picture) and his hotel particulier.
Sotheby’s Paris will be auctioning his effects on April 5 and 6, and highlights will be displayed in London’s New Bond Street showroom from February 26 to March 1. Boutet de Monvel was certainly a man of many parts: serving in the first world war, he was both lauded for his military action and, during a 1917-1919 posting to Morocco, able to produce some of his finest works. Later, he divided his time between Paris, New York and Palm Beach.
But it was for his work that he will be best remembered. Boutet de Monvel was a painter, engraver, sculptor, decorator, illustrator and above all portraitist, with clients amounting to a who’s who of the early-20th century: names included Frick, Whitney, Astor and numerous others. The 300 lots – which also include art deco furniture he designed himself, and fashion illustrations – present some of his finest portraits. They include the Maharajah of Indore (€300,000-€500,000, fourth picture), William Kissam Vanderbilt Jr (€20,000-€30,000), the Duchess of Brissac wearing Dior (€15,000-€20,000, fifth picture), and several beautiful portraits of his wife Delfina – including one in which she is wearing an ensemble by Pierre Piguet (€40,000-€60,000, first picture) – and his daughter Sylvie (€15,000-€20,000, sixth picture).
“The sale of the Boutet de Monvel Collection is rare in many aspects: it is probably the first time the full contents of the studio of an important artist has appeared on the market and the collection itself provides a unique insight into the intimate world and creative genius of this fascinating man,” said Pascale Pavageau, head of the 19th-century paintings department, Sotheby’s France. “Bernard Boutet de Monvel was one of the greatest portraitists of the 1920s-1940s and the works in the sale, from his sketches and preparatory works to his masterpieces, reveal the full extent of his talent.”
Boutet de Monvel died in an air crash in 1949, aged 68, in the same tragedy that killed Edith Piaf’s lover, the boxer Marcel Cerdan. But in these works, his talent triumphantly lives on.