by Sebastiano Bazzichetto
PARIS – The building’s façade dates back to 1705. Jules Hardouin-Mansart, chief architect to the Sun King, sketched its initial design. In 1898 César Ritz opened the gilded doors of his hôtel to the public. Ritz has since become synonymous with opulence, luxury and refinement. Ever been called ritzy?
The list of its illustrious guests is long, and we just have to mention a few names, a literal parterre de rois (et de reines), of Hollywood stars, socialites and artists: Coco Chanel, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Marcel Proust (who drew inspiration for his À la recherche du temps perdu character from Maitre d’Hôtel Olivier Dabescat), Ernest Hemingway, the Duchess of Devonshire, Oscar Wilde (who used to complain about its electric illumination), Princess Diana, Audrey Hepburn, King Edward VII, the Vicomtesse de Noailles, the Fitzgeralds (in 1922 F. Scott penned a novella titled The Diamond as Big as the Ritz), Celine Dion and so forth.
This summer (June 21-23) the spotlight turns once again on the famed Ritz Paris (a landmark of the 20th century) thanks to an auction that will certainly attract collectors from all over the world. Only two years ago ArtCurial sold the furniture from the Ritz Paris and this year the renowned French auction house is able to offer the Ritz’s fabled table sets.
Porcelain, silverware, crystals and linens: the memorabilia (and soon someone’s heirlooms), which tell the story of the joyous convivia of the hôtel in Place Vendôme, will take centre stage in a unique auction of its kind.
“It will be the last chance to take home a piece of the legendary universe represented by the Ritz Paris” said Stéphane Aubert, associate director and commissaire-priseur at ArtCurial, at an interview a few weeks ago. “In 2018 we meticulously recreated the rooms of the Ritz – bedrooms, bathrooms, the Hemingway Bar – in our headquarters, the Hôtel Marcel Dassault. Back then there was only the furniture. The Ritz didn’t know what they wanted to do with the tableware. So this time is quite momentous. We have more than 1500 lots to offer to our audience this June.”
And if you wonder why people would like to buy something that has been already used, Mr. Aubert explained: “Because it is a piece of history bound to dreamed-of individuals. On a tray or a plate you can find some imperfections. But very likely those flaws were produced by Coco Chanel or the august fork of the Duchess of Windsor. And then you can turn the plate or the glass and read the provenance. These days the provenance is paramount. When you are a collector there is the pleasure to own an object avec sa jolie patine, as we say in French.”
Orchestrating such an auction is a very long process that requires lots of energy, time and dedication. But then the outcome is quite spectacular and the ultimate idea is that “you can use all of this daily, in any occasion. These sets are not only for big events, but they can be used in our daily routine. In this way they live on and become part of our personal story too.”
Each piece gives voice to the refined soul of this legendary Hôtel: from the iconic Marthe service (commissioned in 1898 by César Ritz for the grand opening) to the Ritz Club service designed by Jean Boggio; from Limoges porcelain to Christofle and Ercuis tableware, all bearing the “Hôtel Ritz” insignia. Mr. Laurent Buttazzoni staged the display of these timeless lots in the salons of the Hôtel Dassault and the catalogue speaks for itself.
“It was very exciting to see him choose the pieces” – continued Mr. Aubert – “the palette of colours, the food, the combination of bone china and silverware. Laurent had a great eye to arrange the table sets for our catalogue and make it alive, not merely a snapshot of beautiful objects.” It is indeed a chance not to be missed for keen collectors and treasure hunters out there.
Thanks to this unprecedented auction there will be no end to refined dining with these sumptuous table settings. The freewheeling days embodied by the Ritz Paris have not come to a halt quite yet.