A part of the Renault Collection fetches double its collective low estimate, despite some controversy

[18 Jun 2024]

On 6 June, Christie’s auctioned works from the prestigious art collection of the Renault group: 33 lots by renowned artists such as Victor Vasarely, Jean Dubuffet, Robert Rauschenberg, Sam Francis, Niki de Saint Phalle, Jean Tinguely, Jean Fautrier, Tapiès, Pierre Alechinsky, Joan Miró, Alexander Calder, Jesús Rafael Soto and Julio Le Parc, as well as thirty drawings by Henri Michaux, presented separately on June 7.

Initially expected to generate between 4.5 and 6.5 million euros, the sale dwarfed the estimates reaching 10.7 million euros, more than double the low estimate. The profits will allow Renault to create a new endowment fund for art, culture and heritage, to save and restore the remaining works, to exhibit them again and to acquire new works, particularly street art. Renault is therefore clearly intending to breathe new life into its artistic heritage.

However, behind its success, this sale caused a lively controversy. Although Renault still has 90% of its collection, and, although the sale was very much in line with the kind of ‘heritage regeneration’ practiced by certain American collections, many artists, rights holders and politicians have expressed their indignation through letters and petitions. They pointed out that these works were initially intended for Renault staff and the general public via exhibitions. Delphine Renard, daughter of the founder of the Research, Art and Industry Service of the Régie Renault , even requested the intervention of France’s Minister for Culture, Rachida Dati, arguing that “the contracts with the artists stipulated that their works should not be the subject of any advertising or commercial operations”. Despite these protests, the works were dispersed, eliciting palpable enthusiasm and much higher than expected prices.

Three important works by Jean Dubuffet exceeded one million during this sale.

One of the highlights of the sale was a work entitled Scène à l’invalide by Jean DUBUFFET, the key founder and theorist of Outsider Art or Art Brut, which reached €403,200 ($438,700), well beyond from its high estimate of €120,000. Other major works by Dubuffet followed, three of which each fetched over a million euros. These exceptional results reflect the quality of the Dubuffet works in the Renault collection, but also the turbulent history between the artist and the company.

At the beginning of the 1970s, Renault commissioned Dubuffet to make a set of monumental structures for the square of its famous Boulogne-Billancourt manufacturing plant. This ambitious project, intended to provide a relaxing space for workers, did not come to fruition, officially for technical reasons. Renault considered destroying the unfinished work, which Dubuffet fiercely opposed. After a judicial marathon of almost a decade involving summary proceedings, hearings, an initial decision, an appeal, a cassation, a dismissal, another cassation – in 1983 Dubuffet finally got a decision in his favor allowing the works to be finished… but he preferred to stop everything, refusing to allow Renault to be awarded the Salon d’été.

Niki de Saint Phalle’s geographical distribution of proceeds from auctions since the start of 2024 (copyright Artprice.com)

The White Goddess fetches one of Niki de Saint Phalle’s Top 10 French auction results.

Collectors also competed in bidding for The White Goddess (1963-1964) by Niki DE SAINT-PHALLE, a tall wedding bride composed of small manufactured objects, offered between €100,000 and €150,000 and which fetched €567,000 ($617,000). Works by Sam FRANCIS and Robert RAUSCHENBERG, which illustrate the importance of Contemporary American art in the Renault collection, also far exceeded expectations, reaching €529,000 ($575,790) and €831,000 ($904,800) respectively, the best results obtained in France this year for these two giants of American art.

So, despite the controversy, Renault managed to thrill the art world with this exceptional sale, highlighting the inestimable value of its artistic heritage and its ambition to renew and enrich it for future generations.