The Périnet Sale at Christie’s – June 23rd 2021
The Périnet Sale at Christie’s – June 23rd 2021
By Marion Bertin
The collection of African, Amerindian and Oceanic art of jeweler, antiques dealer, and art lover Michel Périnet (1930-2020) was put up for sale by Christie’s in Paris last June 23rd. Even before it was held, the auction was the talk of the town, both in art market circles and in the press. A well-known collector in many areas, from Art Deco furniture to modern art, and of René Lalique’s creations and Pont-Aven school painting, Périnet was a regular in the Hôtel Drouot auction rooms and a major figure in the Parisian art world on account of his collection as well as his activities as a dealer. His multiple interests, focused mainly on under-appreciated styles and periods at the time, likened him to Jacques Doucet (1853-1929), whom he took as a model, and Calouste Gulbenkian (1869-1955), whom he emulated.
Périnet’s interest in African art began in 1967 while he was visiting London on a jewelry buying trip. He subsequently became interested in the arts of the Americas and Oceania as well. In the realm of the Pacific arts, he acquired nineteen pieces from a large geographical area, including Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia. Périnet had a predilection for monumental works, especially exceptional ones, and he never hesitated to sell a piece when and if the possibility of buying an example he deemed better than the one he had presented itself. He remained modest and liked to say that he did not choose his objects so much as they chose him. Périnet’s discretion surrounding his collection, which was seldom shown while he was alive, is typical of a generation of collectors who preferred to pursue their interests privately. His eclectic tastes nonetheless very definitely resonate with the contemporary practices of cross-collecting that have been trending and promoted by major market players in recent years.
Prior to his passing, Michel Périnet prepared the sale of his collection by asking the specialist dealers who had helped him build it to meet. Paris dealers Lance Entwistle, Alain de Monbrison and Bernard Dulon thus took charge of the auction in collaboration with auctioneer François de Ricqlès, who had managed the Hubert Goldet (1945-2000) collection sale in July 2001, was subsequently president of Christie’s France until 2019, and who returned to wield the hammer for this event. The team Périnet selected worked together for Christie’s to organize the auction. Without any pre-selection or triage, all sixty-one pieces of African, Oceanic and Amerindian art in the collection went on the block and were sold. An important catalog that includes essays by eminent specialists as well as numerous photographs will provide an enduring reminder of this ensemble of outstanding works.
The auction was in a hybrid format, both live on the Christie’s web site, and in the Christie’s Paris auction rooms, to which a select group of buyers was invited. With 66 million Euros in sales (including premiums), the auction set a new record for the field. According to Alexis Maggiar, International Director of the Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas at Christie’s, there are a number of reasons for this success, the most important of those being the quality, the freshness and the rarity of every work in the corpus. Buyers found the consistently high level of every object relative to its place of origin and the density of the quality inherent in these sixty-one works extremely stimulating. The simultaneous exhibition of the Périnet collection lots and those offered in the modern and contemporary art sales of the same week at the Christie’s Paris location is a testimony to the auction house’s desire to reach out to potential new collectors as yet unfamiliar with African, Oceanic and Amerindian arts. The implementation of this strategy, which has been in place for several years now, is certainly part of the explanation for the record prices that some pieces, first African ones, and then more recently Oceanic ones as well, have lately attained, as they come to be acquired by people with substantial financial means.
The Périnet sale also provides further evidence of how important provenances have become, particularly in the areas of African, Oceanic and Amerindian art. The term “provenance” refers to the various collections, both public and private through which an object has passed, as well as to the auctions or dealers that may have been associated with it in its history on the art market. The reconstruction of a provenance provides information on the age of an object and reassures collectors that often make decisions based on the tastes of their predecessors. Certain 19th and 20th century collections have become particularly well-known and objects from them are highly coveted by aficionados. Those include Michel Périnet’s, and pieces from his own collection had previously been in the similarly revered ones of Helena Rubinstein (1872-1965), Maurice de Vlaminck (1876-1958), James Hooper (1897-1971), Georges Ortiz (1927-2013) and Jacques Doucet. There were several Oceanic objects in Périnet’s ensemble that had almost completely traceable provenances – that completeness being almost utopian – including an Uli figure (lot 37) from New Ireland (Papua New Guinea) acquired by Albert Hahl (1868-1945) before 1908, and subsequently in the collections of the Museum für Völkerkunde in Munich before being deaccessioned and put onto the market, and a Mortlock Islands (Caroline Islands) mask (lot22) that Stanislaw Kubary (1846-1896) obtained in 1877, and which entered the collections of the Museum für Völkerkunde in Dresden before it in turn found its way onto the market. This was the first time that an example of this type of mask was offered at auction. It was featured on the cover of the catalog estimated at between 500000 and 700000 Euros, and was sold for 9171000 Euros (premiums included), thus making it officially the most expensive piece of Oceanic art in the world. Some other pieces were of types not often seen at auction in recent decades, such as a Marquesas Islands canoe prow ornament (lot 13), and a Solomon Islands shield with mother-of-pearl and ivory inlay (lot 14), which both made over twice their estimates. Some pieces were on the other hand more representative of what is in vogue at the moment and more often offered at sales, including the New Ireland Uli figures (lots 23 and 37), Easter Island objects (lots 4, 5, 48, and 49), and some objects from New Guinea like the Biwat area flute stopper (lot 61) formerly in the Marcia and John Friede collection.
This sale was also significant for the collaboration it created between its organizers, which included players in both the private and public markets. The cooperation is all the more remarkable because Périnet obtained the objects in his collection one by one from dealers, but they were all sold at once at a public auction. Single collection sales have become major events on the art scene nowadays. They have the dimension of an individual story, of a path followed and of a personality, which auction houses can promote to attract both neophytes and connoisseurs with biographical marketing. The success the Périnet sale achieved demonstrates the ability of the biggest auction houses to energize and galvanize the art market when they can attract and offer highly important pieces and collections. It also illustrates the resilience of this segment of the art market and its buyers’ expectations in the midst of the worldwide Covid-19 epidemic. At the same time as it celebrated Périnet and the Parisian dealers that helped him constitute his collection, this sale also definitively cemented Paris’ place as the epicenter of the market for this art.