“The Joseph Altounian Collection is a rare and precious testimony to the ties between this family of antiquarians and the leading artists of the 20th century (Auguste Rodin, Max Jacob, Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani…). Artcurial is proud to unveil the unique collection owned by a family that has supplied the greatest American museums, and collectors the world over. ”
Auctioneer, Associate Director, Artcurial
Since the first half of the 20th century, the Altounian name has been renowned amongst the greatest antique dealers, museums, collectors and artists in France and worldwide.
Now, the family is set to unveil a significant proportion of its collection to the public. Taking place on 17 and 18 September 2019, Artcurial will present its unprecedented auction of the Collection of Joseph Altounian, antique dealer to museums, friend to artists.
This collection spans numerous periods: Antiquity, the Middle Ages, the Haute Epoque and Modern Art, reflecting the Altounian family’s rich and unique history, defined by its many decisive encounters with the 20th century’s greatest intellectuals and artists.
More than 400 pieces comprised of art objects, sculptures and furniture, will be offered for sale at the auction, which is being held during the Paris Biennale, including in particular, six exceptional Amedeo Modigliani drawings collected by the family. It has been possible to trace the prestigious history and provenance of many of these works thanks to family archives which have been kept intact to this day. Architect firm Lecoadic Scotto was specially commissioned to design an original set for the sale, which is being staged at Artcurial.
About Joseph Altounian renowned antique dealer and artists’ friend
Born in Armenia, Joseph Altounian (1890-1954) left Smyrne at the start of the 20th century. After a stopover in Cairo, he settled in Paris in 1908, and there he learned the antiques trade before moving to Mâcon in Burgundy, in 1936.
Whilst in Paris, Joseph struck up a friendship with Max Jacob, who supported him from his early days. He settled in the Montmartre district, where he observed, rubbed shoulders with and forged friendships with the artists, residents and regular visitors to the Bateau-Lavoir: Pablo Picasso, Guillaume Apollinaire, Amedeo Modigliani… A firm friendship developed between Joseph and Amedeo Modigliani, who drew his portrait in 1917. That portrait has remained in the family until this day, like the five other drawings in the collection.
In 1918, he opened his gallery in the rue Saint Georges in Paris, the St George’s Art Gallery. A decade later, Joseph expanded the business, with a second gallery located in the Boulevard de Courcelles.
He travelled around Egypt with his friend, the painter Kees Van Dongen. The trip reunited him with his first love, since Joseph’s original passion was for the Ancient World; he later became interested in the Haute Epoque. In the time of Nicolas Landau, one would refer to a Landau object, in reference to that prince of antiquarians. It would be equally legitimate to talk about an Altounian object, since Joseph’s eye, his intuition and his knowledge of objects meant that he was responsible for discovering and supplying a large number of works that he sold to pre-eminent European and American collectors.
Georges Clémenceau recommended Joseph Altounian to Auguste Rodin, who chose him to acquire the collection of Egyptian objects and antiques that is now held at the Rodin museum. The archives, letters, address books and goods registers carefully preserved by his heirs, bear witness to Joseph’s professional and friendly relationships with these artists, galleries and antique dealers, as well as a large number of museums (the New York Met, the Rodin museum, the Louvre museum and the Cluny museum).
Following his wedding to Henriette Lorbet, who descended from several generations of Burgundian antique dealers and collectors, the Altounians put down roots in Mâcon in Burgundy, where they set about building their personal collection in their town house. Some years later, their son-in-law Bernard Rousset took up the family passion for antiques and was particularly active in the 1960s, when the first Paris Biennales Antiques Fairs were taking place.
The Altounian collection at auction
The sale features a significant array of statues. Egyptian pieces, such as a wooden statuette of an Egyptian dignitary (Egypt, Meir Necropolis, Middle Kingdom, 11th – 12th dynasty, estimate: €50,000 – 60,000) and an ancient Egyptian scribe in limestone (Egypt, Saite period, early 26th Dynasty, estimate: €6,000 – 8,000), as well as numerous Roman and Gothic sculptures are a reminder of the pieces that Joseph Altounian sold to the greatest private and museum collections in the world. As well as his role in distributing Ancient World and Haute Epoque works to collectors and American institutions.
Also being offered at auction is a limestone torso of a prophet (Burgundy, Cluny abbey, circa 1115-1130, estimate €60,000 – 80,000), a limestone bas-relief depicting two busts of evangelists in medallions, (France, 14th century, estimate €3,000 – 5,000) and a wooden Virgin with Child sculpture (Northern France or the Mosane region, 14th century estimate: €10,000 – 12,000).
A set of six drawings by Amedeo Modigliani, kept by the family until now, makes up the Modern Art section of the sale. All of the drawings have been dedicated by the artist, who had become a close friend of Joseph Altounian, and are listed by the antiquarian in his goods register. They include Tête, a work in pencil on paper, drawn circa 1911-1912, signed and dedicated “Max J/ to our friend/ Marc Brésil/ Modigliani” bottom right, estimate €250,000 – 350,000; and a watercolour and blue pencil on paper work entitled Jeune homme assis au chapeau, created in 1916, and signed “To my friend Altounian, Modigliani” (estimate: €100,000 – 150,000). The most intimate piece is the Portrait de Joseph Altounian, bearing the following testimony by Max Jacob: “I certify that this is the portrait done of Altounian by Modigliani in 1917” (estimate: €50,000 – 70,000).
Catalogue available online at www.artcurial.com
Paris-based multidisciplinary auction house Artcurial, founded in 2002, strengthened its position as leader on the international art market in 2018. With 2 sales venues located in Paris and Monaco, the House totalled 195.3 million euros revenue in 2018. It caters for the whole spectrum of major specialities: Fine Arts to Decorative Arts, Collectors’ Cars, Fine Jewellery, Fine Watches, Fine Wines and Spirits… With a firm focus on the international market, Artcurial is able to leverage its international network, with offices in Brussels, Milan, Monte-Carlo, Munich and Vienna as well as a presence in Beijing and Tel Aviv, and biannual exhibitions in New York. In October 2015, Artcurial organised its first sales in Hong Kong and Morocco.