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Pierre Bergé's Charles Baudelaire collection, featuring manuscripts and original editions of his greatest works. | Courtesy of Sotheby's
Pierre Bergé's Charles Baudelaire collection, featuring manuscripts and original editions of his greatest works. | Courtesy of Sotheby's
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Pierre Bergé's $44 Million Private Library To Be Auctioned Off In Paris

Picture of Simon Leser
UK Literary Editor
Updated: 1 November 2016
After an initial sale last year, French businessman Pierre Bergé (most famous for having co-founded fashion giant Yves Saint-Laurent in 1961), will be auctioning off a further part of his personal library next week. Comprised of some 1,600 books and manuscripts dating from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries, the collection is the most expensive to have ever come to market, and is evaluated at about €40 million ($44 million).
A page from La Porte des rêves by Marcel Schwob, and illustrated by Georges de Feure (1899).
A page from La Porte des rêves by Marcel Schwob, and illustrated by Georges de Feure (1899). | Courtesy of Sotheby’s

The next sale will take place in Paris on November 8th and 9th, and see off 376 books and manuscripts spanning an extended nineteenth century, all thematically linked to the Romantic movement.

As rare and ancient books expert Benoît Forgeot remarked when a small section of the collection visited London last weekend, Bergé’s library is unlike any other — and not just for its valuation: Its treasures are international, and were bought because he liked to read them (or so it goes for at least most of them, unless Mr. Bergé does in fact read in more than six languages). Though Gustave Flaubert, his favorite author, is the artist on whom the collection is centered, the library is made up of rare and unique works from all the important literary traditions of Europe and North America.

According to Benoît Forgeot, this internationalism is partly a product of the fashion magnate’s youth: Bergé first came to Paris as a young man in 1948, and soon fell in with various anarchist militant groups working, among other things, to abolish borders. This, he says, is also why Bergé is fond of Fernando Pessao’s short story ‘The Anarchist Banker‘, in which a former radical and successful financier convinces a young man he hasn’t renounced his ideals, claiming he is working to subvert society from on high. One can see why the idea appeals to him.

At 85, Pierre Bergé’s decision to sell his library may appear very sudden. Yet he has said himself that it was partly due to “a mistrust of inheritances” — his library was always meant to be personal, and now, at the end of his life, he wants to see it released into the world.

L'histoire secrète de la reine Isabelle de Bavière, by the Marquis de Sade (1813) | Courtesy of Sotheby's
L’histoire secrète de la reine Isabelle de Bavière, by the Marquis de Sade (1813) | Courtesy of Sotheby's
Goethe's Schriften (1787-1790), which includes the first publication of Faust.
Goethe’s Schriften (1787-1790), which includes the first publication of Faust. | Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Highlights

If singling out pieces from a library that spans as wide a range of authors as Dostoyevsky, Stendhal, and Nietzsche may be unfair, a few are probably worth mentioning:

. There is an important collection of works by Goethe, which includes a rare off-print edition of the first Faust, dating from the late 1780s.

. A collection of The Works of Lord Byron, dating from 1826, made for, and annotated by, Stendhal.

. All first edition volumes of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, dating from 1868-1869.

. Amid an important collection of works by the Marquis de Sade, there is a complete holograph manuscript of L’Histoire secrète de la reine Isabelle de Bavière, dating from 1813. It is one of his last complete novels.

There are also, of course, various first editions and important manuscripts from the likes of Gustave Flaubert, Oscar Wilde, Percy Shelley, Charles Baudelaire, Henrik Ibsen, Victor Hugo, Nikolai Gogol, etc…

The second part of Pierre Bergé’s Library will be auctioned off in two sessions in Paris on November 8th and 9th. More information here.