People interested in the arts or collecting of any kind are very familiar with the Hôtel Drouot. Not a "hotel" by American definition, but the center of the French auction industry - a sort of pop-up mini-mall of auctions that refresh on an almost daily basis. The first Hôtel Drouot was established in 1852 by a group of commissaires priseurs, licensed auctioneers, who realized that they would benefit from a central location where they could set up and sell their wares at public auction. The idea was a huge success and helped propel Paris into the spotlight as the center for the business of art.
Over the years the Hôtel Drouot has moved and expanded and now comprises four main buildings offering 21 rooms in which to hold public sales. Since 1980, the main location has been on rue Drouot, in the 9th Arrondissement, in a very "mod" building probably most memorable for the bright red carpet that covers the floors, and the walls, of the interior. An average of 3,000 sales occur each year under the auspices of the Hôtel Drouot, these in addition to the more elegant, but not necessarily as interesting, auction houses of Christies and Sothebys.
In 2010, Paris may no longer be the center for art, but a visit to the Hôtel Drouot on any Saturday will leave no doubt that the buying and selling of art and collectibles is a passion that is very much alive.
Take today for instance. When in Paris, I generally try to visit the Hôtel Drouot about twice a week as the previews last a matter of hours and the moment the gavel falls on the last lot, a whole new auction takes over the space. I was interested in a couple of sales that had been mentioned in the Hôtel's weekly news magazine, the "Gazette de l'Hôtel Drouot" so this afternoon I took the number 85 bus over to have a look.
Once I got there I was struck again by the tremendous diversity and sheer volume of the goods offered for sale. Today there were two salons dedicated to jewelry sales, one or two of antique furniture and several devoted to paintings of varying periods and quality.
But then it started to get a little more interesting with a sale of movie posters and memorabilia at the house of Kapandji Morhange.
There was a special sale of very fine drawings by French artist Albert Marquet being shown by Aponem-Deburaux Enchères however the lights were dimmed low to protect the drawings and I could not take a photograph. But next door at Kahn Dumousset Millon & Associés I couldn't resist "Collector et Passion" featuring a mix of Walt Disney collectibles and race car souvenirs. Quite a combination and very amusing!
Across the hall was another amazing group up for sale - this was the private collection of a Monsieur Louis Audouin-Dubreuil who evidently had quite a passion for Africa and exotic travel as reflected by his total safari outfit from camp beds to hatchets. This was going to be a three part sale featuring photographs, posters, documents, personal effects, African art objects and paintings as presented by the House of Aguttes.
But my favorite sale of the day was downstairs in the "basement" section which I thought was a shame because it was of very high quality overall. Presented by Auction Art was "Le Passion d'un Cusinier" the private collection of a chef who had until recently owned and operated a Michelin starred restaurant in Lyon, considered by many to be the capitol of gastronomy. His other passion, beside food, was collecting which he pursued with relish. Squeezed into a rather small sale room was the result of years of searching and acquiring anything to do with food and drink. Hundreds of beautiful copper molds, porcelain menus and food themed posters were presented with antique restaurant furniture, fixtures, advertising ephemera and paintings. It was fascinating but a little sad at the same time.
This was just a typical weekend at the Hôtel Drouot - the items may change but the energy never does and neither does the thrill of discovering something absolutely wonderful within its hallowed walls!