They were born on the same day in the same year: June 13, 1935. So perhaps it was destiny that Bulgarian-born Christo Vladimirov Javacheff and Moroccan-born Jeanne-Claude Denat de Guillebon would meet, marry and become world-famous artists. They’re known for their iconic environmental installations like “The Pont Neuf Wrapped” (1985), where fabric covered the iconic Paris bridge, and “The Gates” (2005), in which 7,503 vinyl gates were placed along 23 miles of New York City’s Central Park.
Following Jeanne-Claude’s death in 2009 and Christo’s recent passing in 2020, the world got a glimpse inside their extraordinary life when Sotheby’s auctioned off the couple’s collection of art and artifacts. The two-part sale was held in Paris, the very city where they first met and married. Drawing the attention of bidders from around the world, the auction brought in a total of €9.2 million, more than double the presale estimate.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude were at the center of the New York City art scene during the sixties and seventies. Their legendary SoHo home and studio at 48 Howard Street was a creative hub and the site of many art world dinner parties. It was also where the duo lived with a very personal assortment of artworks, many pieces gifted to them by fellow artists. And for the first time, dozens of these extraordinary treasures came into public view.
The Argentine-Italian conceptual artist Lucio Fontana was an early Christo admirer, purchasing one of his “Wrapped Can” sculptures in 1958. Years later when the couple was visiting Fontana in his Milan studio, he asked Jeanne-Claude to select an artwork of his. She chose the superlative “Concetto Spaziale, Attesa,” which he inscribed to her on the reverse. The work sold for €920,000, three times the low estimate.
Swedish-born American pop artist Claes Oldenburg was also a close friend of Christo’s, and the two artists traded works in 1964. Oldenburg’s “Bacon and Egg; Ice Cream, and Beef Steak,” which was signed on the back To Christos from Claes, sold for €81,900. Also hitting the auction block was the duo’s beloved Hoge armchair by Gerrit Thomas Rietveld, which they brought over from France on a boat in 1964. Complete with a personal note from Rietveld under the seat, it sold for €214,200 amid brisk bidding.
But perhaps the highlight of the sale was an eight-foot-wide drawing by Christo detailing the 1991 bicontinental project “The Umbrellas,” where 3,100 umbrellas were erected in the United States and Japan. The work was only up for 18 days, forced to close after the accidental onsite deaths of two people. In the end, the massive collage sold to a telephone bidder for €1,706,500, setting an auction record for the couple.
As a postscript, one last work by Christo and Jeanne-Claude is set to be unveiled in Paris this fall. That’s when the Arc de Triomphe will be wrapped in sumptuous fabric. The long-anticipated work is a final statement by the artistic duo — a posthumous gesture every bit as grand as the couple who imagined it.