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Record Renoir auction to go ahead despite protest

Some 143 letters, photos, plasters, drawings and personal items that once belonged to the French artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir will be sold at auction on Thursday, despite protests from the Impressionist master's great-grandson.

Record Renoir auction to go ahead despite protest
A drawing and letters which belonged to French artist Pierre-August Renoir are on display at an auction in New York. Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP

Heritage Auctions, which has organized the sale, expects the lot, billed as the largest collection of Renoir memorabilia, to bring in some $3 million.

Renoir's glasses, his signature polka-dot scarf, his marriage certificate and letters written to him by friends and contemporaries such as Claude Monet, Edouard Manet and Auguste Rodin will be put under the hammer.

Also part of the sale is the painting "Les Becasses" – The Woodcocks – completed only a few hours before the artist's death at age 78 on December 3, 1919.

The entire collection belonged to one of Renoir's grandsons, Paul, who moved to the United States and sold the belongings before his death in 2005.

In France, Jacques Renoir, the artist's great-grandson denounced the "dismembering of Renoir's private life by publicly selling family memorabilia… including personal objects, personal letters and photographs including Renoir on his death bed."

In an open letter to French Culture and Communication Minister Aurelie Filippetti, the Orsay Museum in Paris and the Renoir Museum in the southeastern French city of Cagnes-sur-Mer, he expressed his desire for the two institutions to buy some of the items.

The sale has generated "huge" interest, according to Brian Roughton, managing director of fine arts for Heritage Auctions.

"Various museums have been here, French museums mainly," he said, refusing to name exactly which ones, but saying "that the most major of all have been here to go through the collection."

The lot was purchased from Paul Renoir by Rima Fine Arts gallery, in the southwestern state of Arizona. Heritage has not named the seller, but Rima Fine Arts has advertised the event on its Facebook page.

Jacques Renoir's anger doesn't go very far with Roughton, who says the artist's possessions unquestionably belonged to Paul Renoir and his wife.

"There has never been a dispute that they owned it. They first consigned it as one lot — they wanted to sale the whole thing. At that point, if Jacques Renoir wanted to buy it, he should have bought it, it would be his," he said.

Among the most items anticipated to fetch the most money is the "Grande Venus Victorieuse," a large, 1.8-meter (5-foot-11-inch) sculpture by Renoir and a young assistant, Richard Guino, valued by the auction house at $900,000 to $1 million.

"Becasses," Renoir's last painting, has been valued between $80,000 and $120,000, while the various letters have been priced between $2,000 and $10,000 each.

Two letters from Renoir's wife, Aline, are among some of the least expensive items, with a pre-sale estimate of $500 to $700 for both.

The auction also includes 20 original sculptural plaster maquettes created during Renoir's final years with the help of his assistant Guino, at the painter's Les Collettes home in Cagnes-sur-Mer.

The maquettes were produced after arthritis nearly crippled Renoir's hands, forcing him to have assistants tie a paintbrush to his right hand.

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ARCHITECTURE

Futuristic Gehry tower opens in World Heritage Arles

Rising high beyond an ancient Roman arena in Arles, a tall, twisted tower created by Frank Gehry shimmers in the sun, the latest futuristic addition to this southern French city known for its World Heritage sites.

Futuristic Gehry tower opens in World Heritage Arles
Gehry's Luma Tower opens in Arles, France. Photo: H I / Pixabay

The tower, which opens to the public on Saturday, is the flagship attraction of a new “creative campus” conceived by the Swiss Luma arts foundation that wants to offer artists a space to create, collaborate and showcase their work.

Gehry, the 92-year-old brain behind Bilbao’s Guggenheim museum and Los Angeles’ Walt Disney Concert Hall, wrapped 11,000 stainless steel panels around his tower above a huge glass round base.

It will house contemporary art exhibitions, a library, and offices, while the Luma Arles campus as a whole will host conferences and live performances.

From a distance, the structure reflects the changing lights of this town that inspired Van Gogh, capturing the whiteness of the limestone Alpilles mountain range nearby which glows a fierce orange when the sun sets.

Mustapha Bouhayati, the head of Luma Arles, says the town is no stranger to
imposing monuments; its ancient Roman arena and theatre have long drawn the
crowds.

The tower is just the latest addition, he says. “We’re building the heritage of tomorrow.”

Luma Arles spreads out over a huge former industrial wasteland.

Maja Hoffmann, a Swiss patron of the arts who created the foundation, says
the site took seven years to build and many more years to conceive.

Maja Hoffmann, founder and president of the Luma Foundation. Photo: Pascal GUYOT / AFP

Aside from the tower, Luma Arles also has exhibition and performance spaces in former industrial buildings, a phosphorescent skatepark created by South Korean artist Koo Jeong A and a sprawling public park conceived by Belgian landscape architect Bas Smets.

‘Arles chose me’

The wealthy great-granddaughter of a founder of Swiss drug giant Roche, Hoffmann has for years been involved in the world of contemporary art, like her grandmother before her.

A documentary producer and arts collector, she owns photos by Annie Leibovitz and Diane Arbus and says she hung out with Jean-Michel Basquiat in New York.

Her foundation’s stated aim is to promote artists and their work, with a special interest in environmental issues, human rights, education and culture.

She refuses to answer a question on how much the project in Arles cost. But as to why she chose the 53,000-strong town, Hoffmann responds: “I did not choose Arles, Arles chose me.”

She moved there as a baby when her father Luc Hoffmann, who co-founded WWF,
created a reserve to preserve the biodiversity of the Camargue, a region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Rhone river delta known for its pink flamingos.

The tower reflects that, with Camargue salt used as mural panels and the
delta’s algae as textile dye.

Hoffmann says she wants her project to attract more visitors in the winter, in a town where nearly a quarter of the population lives under the poverty line.

Some 190 people will be working at the Luma project over the summer, Bouhayati says, adding that Hoffman has created an “ecosystem for creation”.

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