Posh Books, Including Madame de Pompadour’s, go to Auction

©2020, Photograph by Visko Hatfield

The Gutfreunds’ salon alcove with a massive Louis XVI grey-painted canape by Jean-Baptiste Lelarge.

An extravagant collection of fine and decorative art, rare books, and jewelry will head to auction at Christie’s in New York in a series of three sales beginning next week. The sale’s name, “The Collection of Mr. & Mrs. John H. Gutfreund 834 Fifth Avenue,” takes care to note the owners’ ritzy, Upper East Side address, a “legendary New York interior” packed with Old Masters and Chanel earrings formerly occupied by Susan Penn Gutfreund, an art lover, and her late husband, investment banker John Gutfreund.

Courtesy of Christie's

Unsurprisingly then, their plush library was filled with ornate books: fine bindings, festival books documenting the luxury of Versailles, and illustrated herbals, botanicals, and art/design volumes. French books and books with royal and noble associations also abound, including a group of ten works from the library of Madame de Pompadour (1721-1764), the longstanding and reputedly very clever mistress of King Louis XV. Bound in her signature leather gilt armorial bindings, these ten volumes—the subjects seemingly insignificant; the auction catalogue does not list them—were once part of the Enlightenment intellectual’s 3,500-volume library. The lot’s conservative estimate is $10,000-15,000. (This lot is included in the Jan. 26 art sale, not the online “Selections from the Library” sale which opens on Jan. 14.)

But it isn’t all just pretty faces. No doubt Maria Sibylla Merian’s 1719 (second edition) treatise on the insects of Surinam is indeed stunning, with its hand-colored engraved illustrations, but what makes this copy interesting is the manuscript translation interleaved by writing master William Chinnery, dated 1734. Estimated at $80,000-120,000, it is one of the sale’s high hopefuls.

A slightly nicked-up first American edition of Virginia Woolf’s The Common Reader (1925) seems an odd fit for this library, but then this one is a presentation copy, inscribed to fellow Bloomsburian, E.M. Forster.  The estimate is $6,000-9,000.

Another intriguing lot, from a book history/woman collectors point of view, is the 1786 library catalogue manuscript of one Mademoiselle la Marquise de Brunoy, who seems to have preferred belles lettres. The calligraphy is charming, too. It is estimated at $2,000-3,000.