The collection of a lifetime, Claude H. Sorbac

Dec 6, 2021

A few weeks ago in Geneva, pieces by René Lalique attracted and astonished lovers and specialist dealers at Sotheby’s. The exhibition at the Mandarin Oriental featured both the top lots that were sold a few days later and pieces that will light up the end-of-year sales. And here was the Claude H. Sorbac collection partially unveiled before our eyes.

Steel and aluminium brooch. Acquired from a London dealer in 1979. Estimate between 8000 and 12,000 euros. Photo: Sotheby’s

We know so much about René Lalique, and sometimes so little. It only takes one piece that is completely different from the others to reveal a facet of a creator. When one of Claude Sorbac’s daughters, Marie-Louise, agreed to talk to us about her father and his collection, a world was revealed. Through her family history, her father’s collection was revealed. While Sotheby’s will soon offer 39 lots, the collection has numbered as many as 50 pieces. “Dad said that this man was a genius because of the eye he had, because of the diversity of materials he always used. He always regretted, in his time, that he was so little considered. Each object is a testimony to his multidisciplinarity and his curiosity,” begins Marie-Louise, thus laying down one of the guidelines of the interview. Fascinated by glass objects, Claude began by collecting objects signed Daum or Gallé, to name but two. Although jewellery arrived late, he was 45 when he turned to this medium, he had already been fascinated by glass for a long time. And it was through this material that he discovered the work of Lalique. A taste for art is a pillar of the family. To understand this, one must unfold the family history and place Claude in it. “Our great grandfather was called Jules Strauss. He was a great collector. Paintings and objects were everywhere in his home. He passed on this taste for beauty to his whole family,” adds his daughter. Among the artists in the family collection are Renoir, Sisley, Degas and even Tiepolo.

René Lalique | Horn and diamond comb, “Hirondelles Amoureuses”. Forming two horn swallows, one holding in its beak a branch enhanced with old-cut and 8/8-cut diamonds, size 218 x 167 mm approx., signed Lalique, gross weight 31.55 g, circa 1906-1908, in its case signed Lalique. Heirs of René Lalique. Acquired in 1979 in Paris from a descendant of René Lalique. Estimate between 400,000 and 600,000 euros. Photo: Sotheby’s

Claude Sorbac born in 1921. His father Roger was also an art collector, while his mother was a decorator for a major Parisian house. His education at HEC was interrupted by the war as he had to enlist for the STO. At the age of 22, he joined the 1st Moroccan Spahis regiment and took part in the liberation of Paris with the 2nd DB. At the end of the war, he learnt of the death of his father, Roger, who had been deported to Auschwitz following the“roundup of notables“. After resuming and completing his studies, he felt the need to get away from France and the complicated post-war situation. “He then accepted a job in Buenos Aires to relaunch a factory that manufactured zips. The Argentine adventure tempted him and he said yes,” explains his daughter. After several years, he became self-employed and started several companies, always in Argentina. “He met our mother there and they had five children, including me,” adds Marie-Louise. Unfortunately, the 1970s saw the political situation deteriorate. Claude closed his companies and decided to return to France. It was at this time that he began to acquire objects. He tirelessly visited antique shops and markets, and his friends also advised him. Wherever he travelled, he looked, observed and bought, most of the time, they were related to Art Nouveau.

Ivory, horn, enamel and diamond comb, “Cattleya”. Heirs of René Lalique. Acquired in 1976 in Paris from a descendant of René Lalique. Estimated at 700,000 to 1.5 million euros. Photos: Sotheby’s

The collection as a whole is striking. The pieces are remarkable, many are stunning and reveal a little more about the artist behind them. Of course, the glass pastes are sublime. The metal work is just as sublime. The two steel and aluminium brooches are stunningly modern and totally unexpected. Glass is a common feature of many of the jewels presented here.“Wearable” comes up regularly in the discussion with his daughter, but it is worth noting here the false simplicity of the pieces that makes them all the more desirable. While the jewels are numerous, we also discover medals, an imposing cloak buckle and a necklace linked to Edmond Rostand’s play, Chantecler, which he spent eight years writing, and tableware. The eclecticism of the whole makes this ensemble fabulous. There is no doubt, we hope in any case, that there will be many fans. Claude Sorbac left us in March 2021 in his 100th year. Note the nod from Lalique. Its factory in Wingen-sur-Moder has just celebrated its centenary. If you want to discover the pieces, you will have to go to Sotheby’s in Paris from 11 December. The event promises to be as sumptuous as the sale!

See you soon!


marie chabrol

Hello my name Is Marie. Speaker, consultant & teacher, I write with passion about the world of jewelry.

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