Photography lesson

The Hôtel Lambert, a lesson in luxury

Apollo’s new bi-weekly auction preview takes a look at the hottest works and collections to come in the auction rooms.

The Hôtel Lambert has, over the centuries, housed the political salons of the Marquise du Châtelet and her lover, Voltaire; under the ownership of the Czartoryski princes, it hosted Balzac, George Sand and Delacroix, and was called by Chopin his favorite place to play the piano. Before even addressing the exploits of the famous party animal and former resident Baron de Redé – including the Oriental Ball in 1969, where Brigitte Bardot frolicked in an odalisque while Salvador Dalí and Christian Dior each wore a costume designed by the other, has been counted among the most fantastic parties of the century – this mansion on the Ile Saint-Louis led perhaps a more colorful life than any other townhouse in Paris.

The Lambert Hotel in Paris. Photo: courtesy Sotheby’s

Its most recent owner, Qatari Prince Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al Thani and his family bought the property in 2007 and have since overseen a major restoration. It hasn’t been without controversy – plans to install a lift and an underground car park have raised eyebrows among French environmentalists, while a fire in 2013 badly damaged frescoes by Eustache Le Sueur and Charles Le Brun – but the project, overseen by architect Alain-Charles Perrot, now president of the Academy of Fine Arts, was widely considered a success, sensitive to the requirements of the UNESCO-listed site while by carrying out the necessary modernizations to ensure its sustainability. Sheikh Al Thani has also commissioned interior designer Alberto Pinto to shop around for antiques that might live up to the surrounding example. It’s a job that, if evidence from Sotheby’s five-part sale in Paris this month is to be believed, Pinto has taken on with aplomb.

The result is a lesson in lavishness (and perhaps what can be achieved with an unlimited budget), through furniture, painting, sculpture, and just about every sort of piece of art prized by royalty and celebrity. There are works here that speak to the building’s earliest origins, which were designed by Louis Le Vau, Louis XIV’s favorite architect, for financier Jean-Baptiste Lambert in the 1640s. porphyry, made in Rome at the end of the 17th century, reveals the influence of Charles Le Brun in the design of women with braided hair whose faces are sculpted in relief on the front (est. €1m-€2m). Yet, much like varied visitors, the Hotel once drawn, the star power of provenance drawn here extends far beyond 17th-century France.

Porphyry vase (one of a pair; circa 1680–1710), Rome.  Sotheby's Paris (estimated between 1 and 2 million euros)

Porphyry vase (one of a pair; c.1680–1710), Rome. Sotheby’s Paris (estimated between 1 and 2 million euros)

Catherine the Great’s table service (estimated between €700,000 and €1m) and a candelabrum used by Madame de Pompadour at the Château de Bellevue add to the luster. An intriguing set of Limoges grisaille enamels includes an oval dish (vs. 1570-1575), with a painted scene representing the Judgment of Moses, which was once part of the collection brought together by Yves Saint Laurent (estimate €200,000 to €300,000) and a pair of George III armchairs, produced during the famous collaboration between Robert Adam and Thomas Chippendale for Lawrence Dundas (€600,000 – €1 million). Deemed excess over the needs of the House of Thani after the sale of the Hotel earlier this year, would have to French telecom magnate Xavier Niel for more than €200 million, the entire sale should bring in a low estimate of around €50 million.

Dish with the Judgment of Moses (circa 1570-1575), attributed to Pierre Reymond.  Sotheby's Paris (estimated between €200,000 and €300,000)

Dish with the Judgment of Moses (vs. 1570-1575), attributed to Pierre Reymond. Sotheby’s Paris (estimated between €200,000 and €300,000)

London next week seems a world away from all that opulence, as sales, timed to coincide with Frieze, seek to attract a rather different clientele. Lily Cole has starred in Sotheby’s marketing for its London sales, with its contemporary offering, ‘Now’ led by market darlings such as Jadé Fadojutimi, Flora Yukhnovich and Banksy (who else?); during its ‘Soirée d’Art Contemporain’, it is both crazy to think and quite conceivable that the entire recipe of the Lambert collection is surpassed by a single triptych by Francis Bacon, Three studies for the portrait of Henrietta Moraes (1963), which until recently hung on the walls of MoMA. He carried an estimate that would have been over £30million.

Caterer (2017), Caroline Walker.  Christie's, London (est. £100,000-£150,000

caterer (2017), Caroline Walker. Christie’s, London (est. £100,000-£150,000). Photo: Christie’s Images Ltd. 2022

At Christie’s, meanwhile, the “20th/21st Century Evening Sale” is led by an extremely pink landscape by David Hockney, Early in the morning, Sainte-Maxime (estimated between £7 and £10 million). But the most captivating painting in the sale is that of Caroline Walker caterer (estimated between £100,000 and £150,000); part of his series of night scenes (2017) depicting lone female figures, this work shows a woman with her back to the viewer and shadowed by the bright electric lights of the kitchen counter she is working on late at night. One of Walker’s most austere and psychologically mysterious portrayals of working in the service industries, it serves as a salutary reminder of the kinds of lives that lurk behind the glittering parties and dinners that once lit up the Hôtel Lambert, or that are currently filling the diaries. in London.