Treasures from Al Thani family-owned Hotel Lambert available at auction

Catalogue includes items once owned by Coco Chanel, Empress Catherine II and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor

Powered by automated translation

In possibly the most lavish house-clearance sale of recent times, contents of the famed French Hotel Lambert are going under the hammer at Sotheby's Paris.

The sheer breadth of items on offer means the auction house has split the sale into five in-person auctions, an online auction, plus a series of catalogues comprising six volumes.

Between October 11 and 14, 1,300 pieces of art, jewellery and furniture spanning the 17th to 20th centuries will be sold. Renowned for its lavish, opulent interiors — it has, for example, a gallery painted by Charles Le Brun, who also painted the ceiling of the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles — the Hotel Lambert is one of the grandest buildings in the world. It was declared a historical monument in 1862.

Located on Ile Saint Louis in central Paris, Hotel Lambert was built in the late 1640s by financier Jean-Baptiste Lambert. Lambert commissioned King Louis XIV's favourite architect and designer of the Palace of Versailles, Louis Le Vau, to create the house.

After Lambert's death, the work was continued by his brother, Nicolas, who gave Charles Le Brun, Francois Perrier and Eustache Le Sueur the task of completing the interiors. However, despite its names and the fact it has 60-odd rooms, this is not a hotel in the sense of the Ritz or Claridge's. Rather, it is what is known in French as a “hotel particulier”, meaning a private residential palace.

Over the years, the property has been home to the Czartoryski princes of Poland, the Rothschilds and Voltaire. It was said to be Chopin's favourite venue to play, and has also hosted Elizabeth Taylor, Princess Grace of Monaco and Brigitte Bardot.

In 2007, Hotel Lambert was bought by Qatar's Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al Thani, for a reported €60 million ($58.1m), with the aim of restoring it to its former glory. The extensive restoration work was led by architect Alain-Charles Perrot; however, some of the proposed changes proved divisive with Parisians. Plans to add lifts, an underground car park and demolish part of the original wall to install electric gates raised concerns of irreparable damage to the building, sparking petitions of protest.

Drawing praise, however, was the hiring of interior designer Alberto Pinto, who was charged with continuing the work of the original designer, Renzo Mongiardino. To the already sumptuous interiors, Pinto added an astonishing array of pieces, including chairs by Robert Adams, a screen once owned by Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel and a silver tureen once owned by a Russian empress.

After a 10-year restoration programme costing a reported €147m, Hotel Lambert was sold to French telecom billionaire and art collector Xavier Niel in February this year, for an estimated $226m. Now the furniture, art and objects d'Art added by the Al Thani family are being auctioned, with proceeds going to the non-profit Al Thani Collection Foundation, which promotes art and culture.

Worth an estimated €50m, the collection of exquisite items includes Limoges enamels, gold boxes spanning three centuries, pieces from Faberge, hardstone desk seals and mother-of-pearl fans. Described as being amassed through a “deep knowledge and sophisticated aesthetic” by Mario Tavella, president of Sotheby’s France and chairman of Sotheby’s Europe, most items have a fascinating provenance.

Speaking of the quality of the collections now on sale, Tavella says: “The pursuit of beauty and excellence is at the core of this spectacular collection, bringing together pieces treasured by the tastemakers of each generation.

“Visiting the astonishing residence was akin to stepping into part of Versailles, a place where historical and cultural resonance abound. We look forward to sharing all we have seen with collectors and art lovers around the world.”

One item offered at the auction is the Vision de Naples screen, an 11-panelled room screen created in 1923 by Jose Maria Sert. Bought by Chanel in 1925 for her 29, rue du Faubourg Saint Honore quarters, the scene of the Bay of Naples in black and gilt is now estimated to sell for up to €500,000.

A pair of giltwood armchairs designed by Adams and built by Thomas Chippendale circa 1765, meanwhile, is estimated to realise up to €1m, while a pair of gilt candelabra, circa 1750, once owned by Madame de Pompadour, the mistress of King Louis XV, is estimated at up to €400,000.

Another item of furniture, a carved giltwood canape a chassis attributed to Louis XV, circa 1755, and once owned by the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, is expected to sell for up to €130,000.

Also listed is a collection of fine jewelled boxes, including a gold and hardstone Steinkabinett bonbonniere (literally meaning a fancy dish for sweets) created by Johann Christian Neuber, circa 1780-1785, with an estimated price of up to €250,000. There is also a collection of Limoges enamels being offered, including a painted enamel oval dish by Pierre Reymond, which was admired by both Hubert de Givenchy and Yves Saint Laurent. It is expected to realise up to €300,000.

Elsewhere, there is the Rothschild jewelled silver-gilt casket. A large, octagonal casket, it was constructed by Hans Jakob Mair, the last great silversmith of Augsburg, and decorated in silver reliefs. Dating from 1663 and once owned by Baron Mayer Carl von Rothschild, it is expected to sell for up to €300,000. Then there is a grand French silver soup tureen with a cover and stand, that was made by Jacques-Nicolas Roettiers in the early 1770s. Once gifted by Catherine II, empress of Russia to her lover Count Orlov, it is valued at up to €1m.

Also included in the sale is a sapphire and diamond brooch from the late 1800s. Shaped as a fleur de lys, decorated with cushion-shaped, circular, single-cut and rose diamonds, and set with a cushion-shaped sapphire, it was made for Empress Maria Luisa of Bourbon-Parma, wife of Ferdinand I of Bulgaria. The fleur de lys was part of the empress's coat of arms, and is expected to sell for up to €45,000.

“It is with immense pleasure that Sotheby’s unveils the magnificent contents of the Hotel Lambert, a universally known landmark in Paris, with interiors that are only now being revealed,” said Charles F Stewart, Sotheby’s chief executive.

Updated: October 13, 2022, 11:48 AM