The Kugels: A Taste for the Beautiful

On 25 June 2019, by Éric Jansen
Nicolas and Alexis Kugel reflected in the mirror of the Duchess of Mecklembourg-Strelitz's toilet service, produced by Johann Heinrich I Oertel in 1784.
© Galerie Kugel, Guillaume Benoit

In 2004, they left Rue Saint-Honoré in Paris and moved into a private mansion on Quai Anatole France, opposite the Tuileries: a 1,000-square-metre venue that provided a home for their extraordinary pieces. Nicolas and Alexis Kugel are the fifth generation of a dynasty of antiques dealers whose origins go back to late 18th century Russia. Specialists in clocks and watches, the family became famous for jewellery and silverwork before Jacques Kugel, the father of Nicolas and Alexis, extended the business to furniture and paintings. His eye was so keen and his taste so personal that art lovers soon began to talk of a "Kugel" object: a distinction the two brothers maintain religiously, laying on exhibitions to familiarise the public with their exquisite treasures. They are now opening some new rooms: proof that collectors are never lacking with this level of quality.

St Michael and St Anne painted by Hans Wertinger (c. 1470-1533), surrounded by Baroque bronzes. 
St Michael and St Anne painted by Hans Wertinger (c. 1470-1533), surrounded by Baroque bronzes.
© Galerie Kugel

Why did you decide to expand?
We seized the opportunity when it came up two years ago, so that we could create a library, containing our archives, and new exhibition rooms designed by Alain Demachy. We realised that it's better to have simpler surroundings to set off sculptures and fine paintings. In the private mansion, they were somewhat swamped by the elaborate decoration. (…) We want to highlight particular fields, like painting. Visitors will find pictures of just as high a quality as those of specialist galleries. The difference with us is that we follow private collections over the years, so we know about the very rare pieces they contain. One example is this marvellous portrait of Général Delacroix, the elder brother of Eugène Delacroix, painted by Riesener, which has never come on the market before. We are also going to move into archaeology – an area people wouldn't necessarily expect us.

Have you seen a change in collectors' profiles?
There are no longer any customers like those of our father's generation, and this change has become more and more evident over the past few years. But it's an interesting period, if we work on the assumption that the history of taste is cyclical. Old art couldn't be less "in". So much the better for genuine art lovers and dedicated collectors.

Kugel gallery.
Kugel gallery.© Eric Jansen

Can you mention some famous objects that have passed through your hands?
The collection of painted Limoges enamels brought together by Hubert de Givenchy, later acquired by Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent; Primaticcio's double head in bronze bought at the Saint Laurent sale and sold to the Getty Museum; the "Table de Breteuil" or "Table de Teschen" we sold to the Louvre; a pair of Gouthière candelabra we sold to the Frick collection, and, very recently, a magnificent tondo of the Annunciation by Botticelli.

But in covering a great many fields, don't you risk being seen as a jack of all trades?
Not necessarily. We have followed the example of our father, who was a non-specialist dealer, like those in the time of Seligmann and Duveen. We are one of the last companies to work in this way.  

Galerie J. Kugel, Paris.
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