Auctions | May 29, 2018

Marcel Proust's Unpublished Archives Achieve ??750,000 at Sotheby's

Paris - This eclectic sale brought together works from very different fields. Buyers were responsive to this original selection, as witness the high proportion of lots sold: 80%, a record rate for the second time running in France's book market. With a total of ??1.9 million, this sale of books and manuscripts was a resounding success, rewarding a bold approach by Sotheby’s France. 

The outstanding lot in the antique section of the first sale, Les relations des Jésuites au Canada au XVIIe siècle (a very rare collection of 17 letters) multiplied its low estimate by ten, at ??125,000 (lot 6). Humboldt, another piece of Americana with its extraordinary journey through South America, largely exceeded its high estimate when it garnered ??25,000 (lot 29). 

The highest price went to one of Marc Chagall's most dazzling books, illustrated with 42 vibrantly fresh original lithographs: Daphnis & Chloé, Tériade, 1961, driven up to ??140,000 (lot 81). 

Another highly popular lot, five of Antonin Artaud's unpublished sketchbooks, was pre- empted at ??68,750 by the Bibliothèque nationale de France (lot 65). These fascinating sketchbooks from one of Artaud's most creative periods provide remarkable documentation on the author's life and dramatic philosophy. 

Three love letters from Guillaume Apollinaire to Lou, two containing autograph poems and one where he illustrates himself with her, inspired some splendid bidding battles, selling for ??20,000, ??35,000 and ??25,000 respectively (lots 52 to 54). 

In the second part, Sotheby’s was delighted to sell books and manuscripts from Marcel Proust's library, subsequently enlarged by his niece Suzy Mante-Proust. Audiences were riveted from the very beginning, as was obvious during the talk opening the exhibition by Proust expert Jean-Yves Tadié. 

The highest price went to one of the most important lots in the sale: a very early draft of one of the finest passages from Côté de chez Swann, describing the hero's walk along the Vivonne (lot 160, ??132,500). 

One of the great discoveries of this collection was the striking personality of Reynaldo Hahn, Marcel Proust's great love and lifelong friend, seen through their amusing correspondence. One letter describes Proust's day (lot 140, ??6,875), while a touching series, almost entirely unpublished, illustrates the strong bond between the two men (lot 141, ??19,375) and a beautiful melancholic letter full of feeling speaks of the death of Mallarmé (lot 145, ??4,500). 

One of the most fought-over lots was a pencil portrait of Marcel Proust on his deathbed by Jean-Bernard Eschemann, which finally fetched ??45,000 (lot 196). 

The session was also rich with lots illustrating Proust's daily life, including a 1911 note from the Grand Hôtel in Cabourg, the town on which he based Balbec (lot 169, ??9,000). 


Lot 65 

Antonin Artaud 




Pre-empted by the Bibliothèque nationale de France 

Lot 181 

Marcel Proust 


Manuscript galley, 1914-1918 


Pre-empted by the Musée Marcel Proust in lliers-Combray