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Camille de Foresta,
auctioneer at Christie's

Since 2016, Camille de Foresta has been an auctioneer, specializing in Asian art at the highly prestigious international auction house Christie's.

 

A look back on an inspiring career.

First, could you describe your career? Why this specialization in Asian art?

I have been an auctioneer at Christie's since 2016, before which I worked in the same profession at another major international auction house. After a “hypokhâgne” and “khâgne”, I studied history, art history and law, the classic and obligatory path to pass the auctioneer's "concours".

 

After several internships in galleries, antique dealers and auction houses, I did an internship in a large international auction house in the Inventory Department. It was wonderful because we visited so many extraordinary houses, every day was a treasure hunt, every day a new discovery. I was in contact with all the specialists of the house and I got along particularly well with the director of the Asian Art department. It was the beginning of Asian art sales in France, Chinese buyers had just arrived on the market, objects were flowing in and this very small and young department needed reinforcements. I arrived there with a taste for the Far East, of course, but without much knowledge in the field, with the mantra that I was told when I was hired: "At 20, you can do anything". I then followed an intensive training but the professions of expertise are endless: you learn every day, you can always make mistakes and you have to be very humble and never rest on your achievements. This is especially true for Asian art, which involves many countries, many materials and many different eras.

Can you describe your job as an auctioneer in an international auction house?

There are only five auctioneers at Christie's in Paris and three are women. The most well-known image of the auctioneer: holding the hammer. This is the tip of the iceberg, it's only on the day of the sale and even then there are more and more dematerialized sales... Our daily job consists of making inventories, answering requests for estimates, looking for objects, convincing some clients to sell objects, and convincing others to buy them.  We have to describe the objects, date them, establish the ideal estimate to obtain the best possible result, research comparable objects in past sales, books, museums, exhibition catalogs, etc... We also have to research the provenance of the objects... Then, once the catalog is finalized, we contact potential buyers who we know are looking for this or that type of art. Then comes the opening of the exhibition to the public and a few days later the day of the sale. And as soon as the sale is over, we are already on the hunt for other works of art to present in our next sales.

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Is there a particular artwork that marked you during your career?

Several, of course, but in my first Asian art sale at Christie's in December 2016, we achieved over 23 million euros for just 88 lots (a lucky number) including a very exceptional Liao period gilt-bronze Buddha statue that sold for 13 million euros, a record for a Chinese bronze... The room was packed and there was a lot of emotion and excitement in the audience that day.

 

Another lasting memory is a painting by the Chinese artist working in France SANYU (1895-1966) that a client had brought me in 2014 unaware of how much it was worth and which made the world record for a work by the artist at the time in Hong Kong, nearly 10 million euros. The painting was everywhere in Hong Kong, on giant posters, on all the walls of the Convention Centre and on the front page of all the newspapers. It was really exhilarating, we had to do a detective's investigation to retrace the whole history of this painting since its first exhibition in 1958.

A highlight of the next Asian art sale at Christie's ?

A jade horse from the Qing dynasty: very important because of its size and the quality of the sculpture. The sale "From Beijing to Versailles, The V.W.S. Collection" in December 2022 confirmed the appetite of collectors for important jades. Our Asian Art sale will take place on June 14, 2023 and we are currently looking for objects, the closing is scheduled for mid-April.

Your latest artistic crush?

The exceptional work of a contemporary painter named Leny Guetta. Nothing to do with Asian art, I love his mysterious portraits, his dreamlike world that flirts with the surrealism of Leonor Fini and I am impressed by his mastery of oil painting. He has observed the old masters relentlessly, especially Rembrandt, and he paints on old canvases.

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Chine, dynastie Liao, XIe siècle, Statuette du bouddha Vairocana en bronze doré

Crédit photo : Christie’s France.

Is there a particular work of art that inspires you?

Like all Westerners fascinated by Asia and its mysteries, I have favorite books: The Last Days of Pekin by Pierre Loti and in particular a passage that describes the magnificence and wealth of the Chinese imperial residences under the Qing dynasty.

Valley of the Rubies by Joseph Kessel and closer to us Passagère du silence by Fabienne Verdier. Nothing very original but very evocative texts.

I also liked very much of course The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal.

 

Do you have a favorite museum?

Beyond the very good regular exhibitions of the musées Guimet and Cernuschi, there are collections of Asian art that are absolutely unknown in France and one of the missions of the Printemps Asiatique Association is to make them better known to the public: I am thinking of the extraordinary musée d’Ennery on Avenue Foch which will soon reopen, the cabinet of curiosities at the Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild which can be visited by appointment, and the unmissable Chinese museum at the Château de Fontainebleau, which holds many treasures and that I like to show to my clients and friends.

 

There are also exceptional collections all over France with dynamic curators who show them off to their best advantage: take a look at the Departemental Museum of Asian arts in Nice whose beautiful exhibition "L'Asie sans réserve" has just opened and will close on June 11, at the Museum of Fine Arts of Nancy where you could discover Charles Cartier-Bresson's Asian art collections or at Lorient whose Musée de la Compagnie des Indes is a real jewel.

Next Christie's Art of Asia sale, Wednesday June 14, 2023 in Paris: 

Christie's : Asian Art

 

Works :

 

Museums and exhibitions :

  • Musée national des arts asiatiques - Guimet: Discover

  • Musée Cernuschi: Discover

  • Musée d’Ennery: Discover

  • Cabinet of Curiosities, Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild :  Discover

  • Musée chinois of the Château de Fontainebleau : Discover

  • “L’Asie sans réserve”, currently at the Musée départemental d’arts d’Asie in Nice : Discover

Charles Cartier-Bresson’s Asian art collection at the musée des Beaux-Arts de Nancy : Discover

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