The Secret Garden of Paul Haim at Christie’s Paris on Oct.22.2020

Christie’s Paris, Press release, 23.07.2020: “The Secret Garden of Paul Haim at Christie’s Paris on Oct.22.2020”

On October 22nd, in parallel with the FIAC, Christie’s will offer 41 monumental sculptures from the fantastic collection of the art dealer Paul Haim in a dedicated auction. Since his death in 2006, Dominique, Haim’s daughter, has been overseeing the collection.

All of these works were housed in La Petite Escalère, a secret garden nestling along the Adour, a short distance from Bayonne and Biarritz. “But the road I prefer, and which I often voluntarily take pleasure in, is the one that follows the right bank of the Adour; it is an old towpath, dotted with farms and beautiful houses. I undoubtedly love it for its naturalness, this mix of nobility and familiarity that is typical of the Southwest […] reports Roland Barthes, French philosopher who grew up in the area and lived opposite Paul Haim. Rarely open to the public, this garden hidden in lush vegetation was only open to a privileged few. Artists, friends and members of the association of the friends of La Petite Escalère have all made it possible to keep this place alive for many years.

 The garden adventure began at the end of the 1960s when Paul and his wife, the photographer and painter Jeannette Leroy, decided to settle on the Basque Coast. Paul Haim had become a reputable dealer in Paris, known for introducing Japanese audience to impressionist and modern art. He met a multitude of artists, some of whom became friends with the couple, including Zao Wou-Ki and Roberto Matta. He also met Dina Vierny, a great collector and model for Aristide Maillol whose important sculpture will be presented in the sale. Working together with Rhodia Bourdelle, the daughter of Emile-Antoine Bourdelle, Paul Haim worked for many years promoting his work in Japan. The exhibitions devoted to Bourdelle or Rodin that he organised in Japan are landmarks in the historiography of these artists. His travels in Japan also allowed him to meet personalities of the cultural world such as the great Japanese collector, Shikanai Nobutaka, owner of Fuji Television. This art lover founded in 1969 the Hakone Open-air museum in which there is a pavilion dedicated to Picasso created through Paul’s initiative.

Within a few years, the small farm along the Adour that had seduced them grew by several hectares. In the course of these events, Paul Haim kept works for his own collection that had been installed in the garden. Little by little, the collection grew with ever more contemporary sculptures.

Gilbert Carty, the gardener at La Petite Escalère, worked with Paul and Jeannette to provide an appropriate setting for the sculptures. Railway sleepers form a path through the middle of a bamboo grove, a vegetable garden and undergrowth. Visitors are then surprised by examples of the most important sculptural artists of the 20th century.

Emile-Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929), Alexander Calder (1898-1976), Augustin Cardenas (1927-2001), Anthony Caro (1924-2013), Eduardo Chillida (1924-2002), Mark di Suvero (1933-), Fernand Léger (1881-1955), Aristide Maillol (1861-1944), Etienne Martin (1913-1995), Joan Miró (1893-1983), Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988), Jorge de Oteiza (1908-2003), Jaumes Plensa (1955-), Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), Niki de Saint-Phalle (1930-2002), Zao Wou-Ki (1920-2013) are presented within the sale.

Dominique Haim: ” In creating this garden, Paul, Jeannette and Gilbert were far from imagining what it would become one day. In the same way, when I took over, I could not have imagined how much I would experience thanks to him.  I can’t tell you how much this garden has pleased all of us – La Petite Escalère was a fluke. An extraordinary and beautiful adventure that lasted half a century.”

Pierre Martin-Vivier, Vice President of Christie’s, head of the sale: ” It is an honour for Christie’s to be entrusted with this collection of sculptures that trace the extraordinary journey of Paul Haim who, together with Jeannette Leroy, made this garden a place as wonderful as it was unexpected.” The sale’s exhibition, hosted at Kering’s headquarters in the former Laennec hospital, is set to be the back-to-school event and we would like to especially thank our shareholder for making this possible”.

Alongside these masterful sculptures, collectors will be able to bid for exceptional works created for the garden, such as the unique mosaic by Zao Wou-Ki, which is over 7m25 wide and created in 1984. The story of how this work was acquired stems from a visit Paul made in Houston to the great collector Dominique de Menil. When he arrived at her house, he saw at the end of the alley leading to the house, a wonderful abstract mosaic resembling Monet’s Water Lilies. Finding it absolutely majestic, Paul asked his friend Zao Wou-Ki if he would agree to make a mosaic for the garden. They had become great friends thanks to Jeannette who had danced in the 50s with May Zao, the painter’s first wife. It took several years to create this monumental work for which the Chinese artist devotes a lot of energy by going very regularly to the mosaicist’s workshop.

Lionel Gosset, Director of Collections: “In my 40-year career, I have had few opportunities of this magnitude. The presentation of the collection will be undertaken in association with Nathalie Crinière who will put all her talent, at the Kering headquarters, to not only pay tribute to the sculptors of the 20th century but also to Paul Haim who passionately brought together this exceptional ensemble. We will also honour his daughter Dominique, who has maintained and enriched it for nearly 15 years”.

The Caress of a Bird (1967) by Joan Miró is a large totemic sculpture created using a vivid palette of primary colours. It was already an edition of three, one of which can be found at the Maeght Foundation and another at the Miró Foundation. Miró later agreed to make an additional artist’s proof for Paul Haim.  Through its interpretation of the female body and its erotic references, the sculpture embodies Miró’s poetry, but also the more playful aspect of his work, through its incongruous assemblage of trivial objects. Reflecting a certain ‘joie de vivre’ and Miró’s artistic maturity, this painted sculpture is one of the greatest produced by the Catalan master.

Valérie Didier, specialist in charge of the sale: “What a privilege to have discovered this unique collection in this exceptional garden – an unforgettable visit! I was personally captivated by the totemic sculpture of Miró enthroned in the lush greenery of the garden, by Maillol who seems to run wildly among the trees, or by Rodin, whose imposing presence is almost alive, even intimidating. This unique setting allowed me to appreciate these emblematic works of 20th century sculpture in a different light, and in particular to see them interacting with such dynamism, by the way they had been orchestrated by Paul Haim and Jeannette Leroy in this garden”.

Over the years, many artists became friends of Paul Haim, such as Roberto Matta, Niki de Saint-Phalle, Jorge Oteiza and Eduardo Chillida. But also the heirs and successors of Bourdelle, Maillol and Léger. Fernand Léger’s works are widely represented at La Petite Escalère because Paul Haim had a deep admiration for his work, which Haim exhibited extensively abroad.

At the end of the 1960s, when Nadia Léger wanted to enlarge the Fernand Léger Museum in Biot, Paul Haim met the American collector Otto Gerson, with whom Nadia wanted to make bronze editions from ceramics.

The works from Paul Haim’s collection will be exhibited at Kering’s headquarters, 40 rue de Sèvres, from October 15 to 22, 2020. This is a great opportunity for Christie’s to exhibit these monumental sculptures in this exceptional location. This mythical address, well known to Parisians, was home to the Laennec Hospital until 2000 before the Kering group set up its headquarters there. The unique architecture steeped in history will thus become the ephemeral showcase of this fabulous collection.