Rare first edition of Proust’s ‘Swann’s Way’, from collection of fashion mogul Pierre Berge, sells for record US$1.7 million

  • The Sotheby’s sale set a record price for a French book
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 December, 2018, 7:52am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 December, 2018, 8:24pm

A first edition of Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way (Du cote de chez Swann) sold for €1.51 million euros (US$1.7 million) in Paris on Friday, a world record for a French book, auction house Sotheby’s said.

The rare copy of the first volume of the French writer’s masterpiece, Remembrance of Things Past, had been expected to go for between €600,000 (US$678,000) and €800,000 (US$904,000).

It smashed the previous record for a piece of French literature held by the poet Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal, a copy of which sold for €775,000 (US$876,000) nine years ago.

The copy of Swann’s Way is the very first from a numbered, luxuriously bound edition of the novel that Proust paid for himself and gave to his friend Lucien Daudet.

The novel includes the famous “madeleine moment”, when the taste of a little almond cake dipped in tea sets off a flood of nostalgic memories for the book’s narrator.

It was the star lot in the fourth part of the mammoth sale of the library of the late French fashion mogul Pierre Berge.

The co-founder of the Yves Saint Laurent fashion empire put together one of the world’s greatest private collections of rare and antiquarian books.

Pierre Berge, Yves Saint Laurent’s partner, dead at 86

They are being sold off in a series of high-profile auctions which began last year and are set to continue in 2019.

Friday’s sale, which included a treasury of classic works from the Renaissance, hit a final tally of more than €8.1 million (US$9.1 million), double the estimate.

“I am very happy. The market has completely endorsed Pierre Berge’s taste,” said antiquarian books expert Benoit Forgeot, who helped organise the sale.

“Berge was interested in a thousand things. Obviously literature was his main passion – but also mythology, botany, gardens and politics,” Forgeot said.

Berge, who set up the Yves Saint Laurent fashion house with the eponymous designer, his long-time lover, was a supporter of left-wing causes and gay rights.

He died in September 2017 after making sure that his and Saint Laurent’s fortune would go to their philanthropic foundation.

The vast art collection the couple put together was sold off in what was dubbed “the sale of the century” in 2009 for €340 million euros (US$409 million at the time).