OCTOBER 10, 2014
A Famed Paris Taxidermist Opens Its Doors to Damien Hirst
Deyrolle, a nearly 200-year-old house of curiosities, and its idiosyncratic owner will auction a piece created by the British artist for charity.
Louis Albert de Broglie and his spirited wife, Françoise, are in the entryway of his Parisian taxidermy house, the famed Deyrolle. One of the shop’s first grand commissions, a baby elephant that somehow died in a moat in Geneva nearly two centuries ago, stands in the foyer room of the storied Rue du Bac shop. He has very nice eyelashes.
The Deyrolles were a family of wig manufacturers turned taxidermists. (“They knew about ze hairs,” Françoise says, smiling as she pulls at her dark-brown bun.) The family first opened their shop of curiosities in 1831; de Broglie, a former banker and bon vivant and son of French aristocracy, acquired it on the brink of bankruptcy in 2001.
Artists and auteurs have long flocked to the house of curiosities for inspiration and setting. Recall the surrealist party scene in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. Dalí was a fan in his day. After a fire in 2008 ripped through every floor of Deyrolle, many artists created work from its charred remains—the German painter and sculptor Anselm Kiefer was among the first to show up to bear witness.
For years, de Broglie has turned down offers from Sotheby’s and Christie’s for an official entry into the market due to his commitment to maintaining Deyrolle’s integrity as a scientific institution. The demand for natural-science artifacts has grown, but de Broglie disagreed with the idea of the objects being publicly traded as decoration.
But as of this month, de Broglie has relented, somewhat. Damien Hirst, the aging Young British Artist and enfant terrible of the contemporary-art market has crashed the beloved, mythic institution. In collaboration with online auction house Paddle8, Hirst has created one central domestic piece (meaning it could fit nicely in a collector’s home) and 50 signed, stand-alone objects to be auctioned for two weeks beginning Tuesday for his charity, Victim.
As the mainstay, the artist created a cabinet filled with assorted taxidermy and brightly labeled supermarket cleaning aids or insecticides. There are two aerosol bottles of Raid next to a parakeet; four chicks and pink, blue, and yellow bottles of Domestos; white mice lounging on Pepto-pink and hologram-branded Vanish among other animals, antiseptics and weapons such as a gun and holstered knife. On top is a magpie, next to a charred crow above two dueling foxes, an homage to Fontaine’s fables.
De Broglie is dressed in citron-yellow pants, linen vest, and green crochet tie that matches the green string bracelet on his right wrist, given to him by a three-year-old in Comporta, Portugal, where he has a home. Françoise is olive-skinned and elegant in tortoiseshell-and-diamond earrings and is smoking a vaporizer hidden in her handbag. She is 15 years his senior, and in wit, more than his equal.
De Broglie remarks how apropos the collaboration is considering that Hirst started his working life at a morgue.
Francoise whispers, winking on the side, “O.K., I understand everything now.”
De Broglie is keenly aware of the potential criticism of the collaboration. He remembers when when Jeff Koons came to Versailles. “Everybody nearly killed themselves,” he says. In his view, art can act as a mediator, a language people understand, which gets attention from a younger crowd without destroying the integrity of a rich heritage.
Already there’s been keen interest in the cabinet. LVMH C.E.O. Bernard Arnault is reportedly stopping by later to have a look and a parade of other collectors can be seen coming in and out of the shop since the public opening on September 23. Major players have always taken interest in de Broglie and Deyrolle, some simply for personal collections, others for business reasons.
There is no shortage of tourists, or patrons either, without the auction. The day before I visited, someone commissioned a unicorn. It will be Deyrolle’s first. At press time, involved parties were searching for a narwhal tusk to use as the horn. Twenty white and one black lamb with drawers in their bellies, based on a design by Dalí, retail for 40,000 euro and 70,000 euro, respectively. The black one sold and not many of the others remain available. There was a recent solicitation for a representative to come to the nation of Chad to take care of a family dog, which was put on hold by current world events and epidemics. Pandas are often requested, but will never be available because they are endangered. Beetles, frogs, lobsters even, none of these creatures can be manufactured. They are not raised to be killed, rather the house has a series of relationships with circuses, zoos, and farms. De Broglie also works closely with the atelier of the National Museum of Natural History (famed for its dodo bird among others.)
All of this is possible as de Broglie rescued the house from near ruin, first in 2001 and then again with the help of assorted friends after the devastation of 2008. It is de Broglie’s hope that the Hirst project and future collaborations with Paddle8 will expand awareness of Deyrolle’s importance in the education of natural science. It seems Françoise has been essential to all the good works, as well. She keeps de Broglie on task. And on to his next appointment.
Later, I visit de Broglie’s office. The front is a retail store for de Broglie’s gardening line, Le Prince Jardinier. In the back, the private space is made up of what was once the painter Eugène Delacroix’s former studio. A crate of courgettes lies next to a fan of coral. Oversize botanical prints are all over the halls. Further back, there is a final sanctuary, a space where Claude Monet once painted. The walls are turquoise with white moldings, and parchment notes hang from the ceiling as if a chandelier.
Legs crossed, seated on a burgundy upholstered chair, de Broglie tells me how Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” was read to him over and over in his youth. He claimed the version he heard was a beautiful, though not altogether correct, translation, which he says said something like, “If everything collapses, there’s no way to complain. You have to rebuild. Full stop.”