TEFAF exhibitor and collector Xavier Eeckhout has been working and living in Paris for more than twenty years. As an art dealer specializing in early 20th-century animal sculptures, Eeckhout also acquires for his own collection, having started by the age of 18. He invites TEFAF into his home, where he lives with his wife and two youngest children, and introduces us to his collection, living with art and a young family, and explores a few memorable works that he has acquired.
Tell us about your gallery and your life in Paris.
My gallery specializes in animal sculpture from the early 20th century. I present both well-known artists such as Rembrandt Bugatti, François Pompon, and Edouard-Marcel Sandoz, and promote more confidential but equally talented sculptors as well. I live and work in the quartier of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. I love this area of Paris for its history and its atmosphere. You can do everything on foot, and I often take advantage of that. I love to go for a drink with my eldest daughters, take walks with my wife Constance, or play with my two youngest children in the Jardin du Luxembourg.
You not only work with art, but you also live with art. Tell us more about your collection and the idea behind it.
I have been collecting since the age of 18. My taste is eclectic; the philosophy behind my collection is to love what I buy. I have to have a crush on the objects I live with. I do not worry so much about the period or the value of an object, but I rather like to discover objects, especially those that tell stories or that I associate with a memory.
What inspires you to keep collecting?
Starting to collect, no matter what theme or themes, creates the desire to continue. Visiting museums, fairs, and galleries reinforces the desire to love the beautiful. To become attached to the objects and being happy to find them in the evening when I return home is a pleasure that never leaves me.
Can you share one of your first memories of a piece you collected?
I remember the first bronze of Rembrandt Bugatti, which I was able to acquire in 2012. I had seen an exhibition on this artist in London in 2000, which had left a deep impression on me. My parents helped me finance this purchase, I was so proud to have a Bugatti of my own. I was sad to have to sell it a few years later.
“I do not worry so much about the period or the value of an object, but I rather like to discover objects, especially those that tell stories or that I associate with a memory."
— Xavier Eeckhout
The artworks constantly surround you and your family. Does your family share the same interest in the collection or influence it?
Indeed, my children have always been used to living with works of art. They are attentive and precocious with the collection’s objects as well as the furniture and tableware. The field that I am specialized in, animal sculpture, is playful and easy to understand. We have always gone to flea markets, museums, exhibitions, and art fairs as a family and, at least for now, my children have a similar taste to mine. For me, it is essential to transfer my passion to my children and to live it with my family. I hope that something of this will remain for my children, that the education I give them will not be in vain, and that the taste for beautiful things will not fade with time.
Your collection is part of your family’s life. Did your childhood equally influence your love for the arts?
My childhood was not nourished by an exposure to works of art or visiting exhibitions, as is the case for my children. I grew up on the countryside, surrounded by animals, and I loved to ride horses.
Are there objects in your collection that are especially memorable for you?
About ten years ago, I bought a bronze hand by Camille Claudel. I was captivated by the finesse of the execution and the delicacy. I like the idea of collecting fragments, as well as antique drapes, because the eye is focused on a detail in which all the human genius is revealed.
I also bought a work by François Pompon, who undoubtedly is my favorite sculptor, of a walking crow. Pompon is known to be the sculptor of purity of form and movement—he seeks to find perfection. I decided to place it on a pink coffee table by Yves Klein, and I like to search until I find perfect associations, sometimes unexpected, knowing that it is the perfect place for an artwork.
Throughout the years of collecting, what have you learned? Do you recall any moments that impacted your eclectic taste?
Over time, I learned to be wary of fashions. The ephemeral is not my thing. I like to keep a conductive line, motivated by my various specific tastes, and my eye. Meeting collectors who became friends, who have multiple tastes and are buyers of everything, has allowed me to evolve. The mix of styles and works remains the most beautiful mix when it is well orchestrated.
What advice would you give to new collectors?
I recommend buying with your heart. Forget the financial side of the purchase, because buying a quality work of art brings so many emotions, that it makes us forget the price very quickly. I also recommend surrounding yourself with sound advice before any important acquisition.
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