It has been described as the “sale of the century”, an auction of more than 1,300 pieces of 17th to 20th-century furniture, art, jewels and interior decoration from one of Paris’s grandest mansions.
The provenance of items reads like a scroll through the history of European aristocracy: a sofa belonging to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor; a silver tureen given by Catherine the Great to her lover Count Orlov; candelabras believed to have belonged to Marie Antoinette and Madame de Pompadour, King Louis XV’s mistress.
Until recently, the vast collection decorated the Hôtel Lambert, a private mansion on the Ile Saint-Louis in central Paris a stone’s throw from Notre Dame cathedral.
The property was built in the early 1640s by royal architect Louis Le Vau, who designed the Palais de Versailles, and was listed as an historical monument in 1862.
Its owners have included the Polish prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski – who invited composer Frédéric Chopin, the artist Eugène Delacroix and Guy and Marie-Hélène Rothschild to stay.
The mansion’s gilded rooms have played host to literary salons attended by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire and in its society heyday was the setting for glittering parties attended by the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Yves Saint Laurent, Cecil Beaton, Salvador Dali, Brigitte Bardot and an array of European royals.
In 2007, the Hôtel Lambert, whose Hercules Gallery was painted by Versailles decorator Charles Le Brun, was acquired by Qatari royal Sheikh Hamad Bin Abdullah Al Thani who carried out an extensive €120m (£100m) renovations and filled it with his extensive personal collection of art and decorative works. It is this collection now being offered for sale by Sotheby’s in October.
Mario Tavella, an expert on historical collections who is overseeing the auction, said he was blown away when he first entered the Hôtel Lambert.
“It is the most beautiful property in private hands in Paris and probably in France and one of the loveliest residences in the world. It was completely overwhelming to see the overall quality of every single piece in the interior. It was a mesmerising and magical experience,” Tavella said.
“The ensemble forms the biggest collection of high-quality classical works of art, furniture, old master paintings and antique jewels ever offered for sale in France.”
Other items have been attributed to French royals including Marie Antoinette or come from collections amassed by fashion icons including Coco Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld and Hubert de Givenchy.
The collection was removed from the Hôtel Lambert following the mansion’s sale to French entrepreneur Xavier Niel, a telecoms billionaire, for an estimated €200m – a record for a Paris property transaction. Niel is expected to establish a cultural foundation at the mansion.
The Hôtel Lambert: a Princely Collection sale will take place over several days in October.
Tavella said the auction was expected to raise more than previous sales of historic collections, including those from the Royal House of Hanover in 2005 that raised $50m (£42m) and the collections of Lily and Edmond Safra in 2005 and 2011 that raised $100m.
“It really is an extraordinary collection, the sale of which happens once every 100 years,” Tavella added.