The Goya in the Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint-Laurent collection donated to the Louvre

Francisco Goya (1746 - 1828)
Portrait of Don Luis Maria de Cistué, 1791
Oil on canvas - 133 x 114.7 cm
Paris, Pierre Bergé-
Yves-Saint-Laurent collection, announced
gift to the
Musée du Louvre

7/10/08 — Acquisition — Paris, Musée du Louvre — At the press conference announcing the scattering of the art works in the collection belonging to Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Bergé, the latter spoke of the donation of the Portrait of Don Luis Maria de Cistué by Goya to the Louvre [1]. The auction which has already been termed “the sale of the century” as it will be offering art works rarely seen on the market for decades, will take place under the glass dome of the Grand Palais from 23 to 25 February 2009 and be organized by Christie’s [2].

The collection assembled by the famous designer and the businessman had long been cloaked in secret and mystery as the works were almost never lent for exhibitions [3] since the idea of separating himself from one of his works, even for a short period, was pathologically unbearable for Yves Saint-Laurent (this was particularly the case for the Goya in question, promised in loan to the Prado but cancelled at the last minute). If the collection retains this mythical aura, it is due mainly to the history associated with the owners, their passion for art and the art market (to the point that Pierre Bergé became an auctioneer) and the references established between their treasures and their creative work (the Mondrian dress, the museum exhibition on fashion…). They belonged to that class of collectors who knew how to make the paintings, drawings and sculptures of great geniuses co-exist alongside anonymous objects of exceptional quality or non-European art, both through formal and intellectual analogies, and allowing a dialogue, in unexpected ways, between classical art and the 20th century. This French tradition, where impeccable taste and inquisitiveness prevail over scholarly historical art knowledge can be traced back to the 19th century, then moves on to Jacques Doucet, Charles Ratton, Hubert de Givenchy, the Noailles, and is perceptible also more recently in Alain Delon and Karl Lagerfeld (perhaps the fact that there are so many designers here is no coincidence). Actually some of the pieces which came to enrich the Bergé-Saint-Laurent collection first belonged to some of the names mentioned above, but it also grew with purchases on the international art market (the Goya painting comes from the J. D. Rockefeller collection in New York), assisted by exceptional art dealers from Alain Tarika and Marc Blondeau to Jacques Kugel.

Indeed, the collection contains a fair number of works which many French museums would certainly like to acquire, masterpieces of national heritage (Ingres, Matisse, Picasso, Géricault,…) or others which would fill significant gaps (Mondrian, Balla,…) [4]. There is no doubt that the choice of the Goya as a donation to the Louvre is a welcome surprise as the museum’s budget, no matter how big, could not easily accommodate such a purchase since priority almost always goes in this type of sale to national treasures. This donation also seals a reconciliation between the collectors and the Louvre after their falling-out over the fundraising for the purchase of Saint Matthew with the Spade by Georges de La Tour. Moreover, it has always been hard for the museum to acquire Spanish paintings as there is a lack of important works from this school on the market [5]. The Département des peintures at the Louvre holds mainly portraits and one still-life by Goya, not much given the considerable number of the artist’s works which have passed through French hands [6]. Next to the masterful Guillermardet, the sublime and very different portraits of each of the women, this new addition will provide an unexpected and moving touch to the collection : in the very few children’s portraits that he did [7], Goya abandons his cynicism and any denunciation of the social vanities.

Born in July 1788, Don Luis Maria de Cistué was the son of a jurist with close ties to Charles IV and one of Maria Luisa de Parma’s housemaids. He pursued a brilliant career as a military lawyer, then was named head of the University of Zaragoza (1833), field marshal and captain-general of Aragon. He is seen face-on, in a naturalist manner, holding a pet (a recurring motif in Goya portraits). A large inscription states his name, as is often the case when Goya paints children and more generally in Spanish art, and gives his age as being two years and eight months, thus dating the canvas from 1791. The space is defined by the line on the floor and by a light halo surrounding the model and highlighting his blond hair which falls on his shoulders, as well as his blue eyes. He is wearing a robe trimmed with green velvet and a lace collar at the neck and wrists, a pink ribbon at the waist. The references to Velazquez in the choice of colours (black-rose-blue) are obvious as are the signs of a style developed later by Manet (The Fife Player). In a word, a masterpiece which is sure to stand out among other children’s portraits at the Louvre ; as strange and fantastic as the Young Trioson Studying his Primer by Girodet, not much later (1800) but executed with totally different pictorial means.

Version française

Michel de Piles, mardi 7 octobre 2008


[1] Rita De Angelis, Paul Guinard, Tout l’œuvre peint de Goya, Flammarion, 1976 , p.104, n° 252.

[2] In association with the auction house Pierre Bergé & associés.

[3] The De Dreux Children had been shown at the Géricault exhibition ; La folie d’un monde in Lyon in 2006

[4] We hope that like in the case of the Dora Maar and André Breton sales, flexible acquisition procedures will be made available so that major art works may remain in French museums.

[5] We will not mention the purchase of The Beggar by Francesco Sasso, see news item of 16/1/06 (on La Tribune de l’Art, in French). As a matter of fact, it is no longer hanging in the 18th century Spanish room.

[6] Just one example : at the exhibition in the spring of 2008, Goya en tiempos de guerra at the Prado we noticed that the magnificent Portrait of the Marchioness of Monte Hermoso had recently left France (op. cit. note 1, p. 121, n° 468

[7] Among the most famous, the Portrait of the Infante Luis Maria de Borbon y Vallabriga (Zaragoza - see news item of 11/11/06 in French on La Tribune de l’Art, those of José Costa y Bonells and Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuniga at the Metropolitan Museum, of Maria Teresa de Borbon y Vallabriga and of Victor Guye at the National Gallery in Washington

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