Whenever a work of art changes hands there is always a story behind it. When a collection appears on the market an entire lifetime emerges, or, in the case of figures like Robert Lebel (1901-1986), a chapter in history. In the catalogue to the sale of his old master drawings, Sotheby’s manages to condense Lebel’s extraordinary range of interests and experience into a single paragraph. To say that he “defied classification” is not an exaggeration. An art historian and collector, he wrote essays, novels, as well as the first biography of Marcel Duchamp. He was a friend of André Breton, Max Ernst, and Jacques Lacan. During the Second World War the circle went into exile in New York, where Matta, Tanguy, and Claude Lévi-Strauss joined them. At this time Lebel acquired as special interest in American Indian art, especially Eskimo art. His pioneering collection of Eskimo masks was sold at the Hôtel Drouot in 2006. Now Sotheby’s has dispersed his important collection of old master and 19th-century drawings.
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