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French museums swoop on books, letters and manuscripts at the mammoth auction series of the Aristophil collection

on Montag, 25 Juni 2018. Posted in General Autograph News

French institutions exercised their right of pre-emption on a number of occasions as the gargantuan disposal of the Aristophil collections of historic manuscripts began last week.
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A sheet from an eight-page letter written by Vincent van Gogh to Anthon Van Rappard on March 5, 1883. It realised €533,000 as part of the June 18 Aristophil sale at Aguttes. Image: ©Aguttes/Drouot.

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The 122-page autograph composing manuscript for Szenen aus Goethes Faust by Robert Schumann (1810-56) took €650 000 as part of the June 20 Aristophil sale at Ader Nordmann. Image credit: ©Ader-Nordmann/Drouot.

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The 1872 manuscript for Patience. D’un été by Arthur Rimbaud was acquired by city of Charleville for €187,500 as part of the June 18 Aristophil sale at Drouot Estimations. Image credit: ©Drouot-Estimations/Drouot.

The premium-inclusive €17.6m (£15.4m) total for the series of seven auctions was conducted over four days at Drouot (June 15, 18-20).

The Musée Rodin preempted two of Auguste Rodin's notebooks, both formerly part of the library of the perfumer and bibliophile Lucien-Graux (1878-1944), as Aguttes sold letters and manuscripts of leading 19th and 20th century artists on June 18.

One c.1905 example had been used during trips in the Paris region, Beaugency and Touraine, and another on visits to Blois and Touraine in 1904. Filled with notes and observations on art and architecture, the pages included many rudimentary drawings, including sketches for Rodin’s monument to the French dramatist Henry Becque. They sold at €19,500 and €20,800. Letters written by Vincent van Gogh to two fellow Dutch painters provided more than one third of the €2.3m sale total.

Van Gogh

For five years, from 1881-85, van Gogh and the young Brussels-based painter Anthon van Rappard exchanged what they called a "friction of thought". A long eight-folio letter penned to van Rappard, dated The Hague, March 5, 1883, included five pencil or ink sketches. In it van Gogh discusses the merits of a variety of different artist materials, his preferences in Dutch art and his love of Charles Dickens. “In my view there’s no other writer who’s as much a painter and draughtsman as Dickens,” he says. Estimated at €250,000-300,000, it realised €533,000.

The four-page letter written from Arles on January 22, 1889) to Dutch painter Arnold Koning references a number of paintings – including Sunflowers - and Van Goh’s declining mental health. He begins: “Thank you for sending me New Year’s greetings from the far north of our old native country. I received your postcard in the hospital in Arles, where I was quartered at the time because of an attack of brain or some other fever that had already pretty much passed off”. This letter (without illustrations) took €338,000.


French institutions pre-empted seven lots when (on June 19) Drouot Estimations dispersed a series of documents by 19th and 20th century writers and poets. They included the top-selling lot, the 1872 manuscript for Patience. D’un été by the 19th-century symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud. One of a series of poems written for his lover Paul-Marie Verlaine, it was acquired by city of Charleville (Rimbaud’s birthplace) at €187,500.

Sessions devoted to music conducted by Ader Nordmann on June 20 totaled €3.25m.The 122-page autograph composing manuscript for Szenen aus Goethes Faust by Robert Schumann (1810-56) led proceedings at €650,000. This near complete first-draft manuscript for the composer’s masterwork, including many modifications and revisions completed over the period 1844-53, had sold at auction as recently as November 2011 when it took £713,250 at Sotheby’s in London.

Schumann never heard his finished work: A few months after finishing it, he attempted suicide and ended his life in an asylum. The score was published in Berlin in 1858 received its first performance in Cologne in January 1862.

Two late 15th century Books of Hours offered by Aguttes on June 15 dominated bidding at these opening Aristophil sales. The Petau Book of Hours, with 16 medallions in gold camaïeu by Jean Poyer of Tours (fl.1490-1520) sold at €4.29m while the Great Hours of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Milan, c.1471-1476 took €2.21m.


For more than a decade, Aristophil, run by dealer Gérard Lhéritier, was the biggest buyer in a booming historical letters and manuscripts market, encouraging investors to speculate with the promise of an annual return of 8% or more.

A total of 54 different collections were formed, with nearly 18,000 investors and contracts totalling €700m, before Aristophil and its subsidiaries were declared bankrupt in 2015.

It may take as many as 300 sales to disperse the 135,000 manuscripts with four French auctioneers are assisting in their sale. As well as Aguttes, the Neuilly-sur-Seine firm assigned with coordinating the sell-off by a court in March 2017, Artcurial, Drouot Estimations and Ader-Nordmann were also recently approved by the legal administrators.

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