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La géante n°3 at the Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris │© Jean-Pierre Dalbéra / Flickr
La géante n°3 at the Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris │© Jean-Pierre Dalbéra / Flickr
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The Most Valuable Private Art Collections in France

Picture of Paul McQueen
Updated: 9 March 2017
Most of our civilization’s masterpieces are in the possession of states. In France, they’re stored and showcased in the nation’s great museums like the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, and Centre Pompidou. But a significant portion, especially those produced by contemporary artists, are owned by private collectors. Thankfully, many of these wealthy patrons of the arts have decided, due to good grace or tax breaks, to share their treasures with the public.

Hélène and Bernard Arnault

Bernard Arnault, the Chairman and CEO of LVMH, the multinational luxury goods conglomerate, is the richest man in France and the 12th richest person on the planet with an estimated fortune of $37.3 billion. He and his wife, Hélène, are serious collectors, possessing thousands of works of modern and contemporary art. Their latest project, the Frank Gehry-designed Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris’ Bois de Boulogne, contains pieces owned by both the Arnaults and LVMH and has already commissioned works by the likes of Sarah Morris, Taryn Simon, Olafur Eliasson, and Ellsworth Kelly.

Ellsworth Kelly – Red Curve in Relief, at the Fondation Louis Vuitton │© 準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMedia / Flickr
Ellsworth Kelly – Red Curve in Relief, at the Fondation Louis Vuitton │ | © 準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMedia / Flickr

Guillaume Houzé

As the heir to the multi-billion dollar Galeries Lafayette Group, Guillaume Houzé is responsible for deciding which artworks go on display at La Galerie des Galeries (with a little help from his grandmother, majority shareholder Ginette Heilbronn Moulin). The family will also be opening a foundation in a 19th-century building on the Rue du Plâtre in the Marais in the autumn of 2017, which will support art, design, and performing arts with gallery spaces and artist studios. Houzé’s personal collection contains works by David Noonan, Tatiana Trouvé, Wade Guyton, Ugo Rondinone, and Cyprien Gaillard.

Cyprien Gaillard – The Recovery of Discovery │© Sascha Pohflepp / Flickr
Cyprien Gaillard – The Recovery of Discovery │ | © Sascha Pohflepp / Flickr

François Pinault

François Pinault’s $1.3 billion collection of modern masters, composed of more than 2,000 pieces by 80 artists including Mark Rothko, Damien Hirst, Pablo Picasso, Piet Mondrian, and Jeff Koons, will soon go on display at the converted Bourse de Commerce in Paris. The luxury goods billionaire who owns Christie’s auction house had been trying to find a suitable venue to house his private collection, one of the largest in the world, for years without success. Until now, he had shown key works like Maurizio Cattelan’s Untitled 2007 at his two Venetian galleries, the Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana.

Maurizio Cattelan’s 'Untitled 2007' at the Punta della Dogana, Venice │© g.sighele / Flickr
Maurizio Cattelan’s Untitled 2007 at the Punta della Dogana, Venice │ | © g.sighele / Flickr

Jean-Gabriel Mitterrand

Known in Parisian art circles simply as JGM, Jean-Gabriel Mitterrand, the nephew of the former French president, is a veteran sculpture dealer, whose low profile but highly successful career has focused on works by major names like Niki de Saint Phalle and Les Lalanne. He opened his first Parisian gallery in 1988 and, in 2014, created the Domaine du Muy in the south of France, between Monaco, Marseille, and Aix-en-Provence, which features works by contemporary sculptors, including commissioned pieces by Claudia Comte and Roman Signer, set among the wild landscape.

Detail from Niki de Saint Phalle sculpture │ © ChristianSchd / WikiCommons
Detail from Niki de Saint Phalle sculpture │ | © ChristianSchd / WikiCommons

Frits Lugt Collection

Frederik Johannes ‘Frits’ Lugt was the 20th century’s most prolific collector of Dutch drawings, prints, and the documentation attached to them. In particular, he was an authority on Rembrandt’s drawings and amassed every known etching the artist made during his career. Today, his collection is cared for by the Fondation Custodia and held at the Hôtel Turgot in Paris’ 7th arrondissement. Due to the fragile nature of many of the pieces, this doesn’t function as a typical museum but as a study collection that can be viewed and examined by appointment.

Carl Julius Milde (1803-1875), Figure féminine dans des rinceaux de style pompéien │ © Collection particulière / Photo : Johannes von Mallinckrodt, Londres, Courtesy of the Fondation Custodia
Carl Julius Milde (1803-1875), Figure féminine dans des rinceaux de style pompéien │ | © Collection particulière / Photo : Johannes von Mallinckrodt, Londres, Courtesy of the Fondation Custodia

Yvon Lambert

In 2000, gallery owner and art collector Yvon Lambert decided to move his personal collection, which he’d been amassing since the 1960s, to the Hôtel de Caumont in Avignon. The Collection Lambert has since expanded into the neighboring Hôtel de Montfaucon, making it a 3,500 square foot space, and it now contains canvas masterpieces by the likes of Cy Twombly, Robert Ryman, Brice Marden, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Miquel Barcelo, photography by Andres Serrano, Nan Goldin, and Douglas Gordon, sculptures by Donald Judd, Anselm Kiefer, and Sol LeWitt, and conceptual pieces by Daniel Buren and Dennis Oppenheim.

Le Jour ni l’Heure 4387: autoportrait dans la salle Andres Serrano (né en 1950), collection Yvon Lambert, hôtel de Caumont, Avignon │© Renaud Camus / Flickr
Le Jour ni l’Heure 4387: autoportrait dans la salle Andres Serrano (né en 1950), collection Yvon Lambert, hôtel de Caumont, Avignon │ | © Renaud Camus / Flickr

Francoise and Jean-Philippe Billarant

Francoise and Jean-Philippe Billarant’s collection of minimalist and conceptual art, which they have collected over more than 35 years, is now displayed at their private gallery, Le Silo, in the northeast of Paris. The, you guessed it, former 1940s grain silo extends to more than 2,300 square feet and contains almost 100 paintings, sculptures, and videos. Over the decades, the pair has formed close bonds with artists like Carl Andre, Robert Barry, François Morellet, Claude Rutault, and Stanley Brown.

François Morellet – Néons by accident, 2003 │© Florent Darrault / Flickr
François Morellet – Néons by accident, 2003 │ | © Florent Darrault / Flickr

Marguerite and Aimé Maeght Foundation

The Maeght Foundation in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, the legendary artistic village on the French Riviera, presents modern and contemporary art in all its forms. The museum, designed by the Catalan architect Josep Lluis Sert, is a work of art in itself, featuring mosaics by Marc Chagall and a stained glass window by Georges Braque. Its collection contains works by other 20th-century greats like Pierre Bonnard, Alberto Giacometti, and Joan Miró as well as those by contemporary artists like Valerio Adami, Jacques Monory, and Antoni Tàpies.

Alberto Giacometti sculptures at the Fondation Marguerite et Aimé Maeght │© Ronald van der Graaf / Flickr
Alberto Giacometti sculptures at the Fondation Marguerite et Aimé Maeght │ | © Ronald van der Graaf / Flickr

Fondation Cartier

The Fondation Cartier was founded in 1984 and moved to Paris a decade later, taking up residence in bright, airy building designed by French super-architect Jean Nouvel. Its collection contains over 1,400 artworks by 350 artists from multiple disciplines. There is a strong domestic contingent represented, including pieces by Vincent Beaurin, Raymond Hains, Pierrick Sorin, and Jean Giraud, but international artists such as Brazil’s Beatriz Milhazes are also prominently featured.

Beatriz Milhazes at the Fondation Cartier │© Jean-Pierre Dalbéra / Flickr
Beatriz Milhazes at the Fondation Cartier │ | © Jean-Pierre Dalbéra / Flickr

Musée Wurth France Erstein

Opened in January 2008, the Musée Wurth France Erstein in Alsace houses one of the largest corporate collections of modern and contemporary art in Europe. The collection of this worldwide wholesaler of fasteners, chemicals, safety products, tools, and inventory management equipment is composed of an impressive 16,000 works, including paintings, drawings, etchings, and sculptures from artists like Pablo Picasso, Gerhard Richter, René Magritte, and Max Beckmann.

Apocalypse de milieu de terrain by Tim Ernst at the Musée Wurth France Erstein │ © Alexandre Dulaunoy / Flickr
Apocalypse de milieu de terrain by Tim Ernst at the Musée Wurth France Erstein │ | © Alexandre Dulaunoy / Flickr