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François Pinault, a great Breton patron who became the king of contemporary art – France

Here in Rennes, under the title “Black and white in the Pinault collection”, it is first of all a black marble statue “Coup de tête” by Adel Abdessemed, in tribute to Zinedine Zidane, which attracts the public. Then, a “bourgeois couple” in white marble by Jeff Koons. And dozens of photos: poignant “Napalm victim” by Richard Avedon, soothing “Black and white” by Man Ray. A century of global tragedies and emotions unfolds. “In the colors of Brittany,” said Pinault, “in order to reaffirm my attachment to a region which is dear to me”.

Works around black and white to be discovered until August 29 at the Couvent des Jacobins, in Rennes. (The Telegram / Erwan Miloux)

There, in Paris, the monumental wax statue which welcomes visitors under the dome of the former Bourse de Commerce evokes “The Abduction of the Sabine Women”, carried out in 1581, in Florence by Jean de Bologne for a patron named François de Medici. Climbing the three floors, admiring the curves of the Japanese architect Tadao Ando, ​​passing, perplexed, amused or furious in front of the windows of Bertrand Lavier who exhibits a skateboard and a motorbike overturned, vestiges of our time, or in s’ stopping, seized with emotion, in front of a young African-American taken out of a novel by Faulkner and lying in a field of thick wheat, one measures the insatiable curiosity of the purchaser, who now owns more than 10,000 works .

François Pinault, a great Breton patron who became the king of contemporary art – France
The monumental statue “The Abduction of the Sabine Women” welcomes visitors under the dome of the former Bourse de Commerce in Paris. (EPA-EFE)

But we can also guess, according to the words of the former Minister of Culture Jean-Jacques Aillagon, director of the Pinault Collection, “The worry” which sometimes pushes the collector to stay up until the early hours of the morning to acquire at auction, on the other side of the world, a work that he has spotted. We can see his desire to defy the judgment of his contemporaries. How he never ceased to brave fate.

Mocked for his “Breton speaking”

François Pinault was 17 when, humiliated by his comrades from the College of Eudists in Rennes for his “Breton speaking”, he left school. In conflict with his father, who refuses to modernize his carpentry workshop, he leaves to do his military service in Algeria. He was 24 when he created his first business outside Rennes, on the road to Lorient. He works there 18 hours a day. He was 54 years old when he bought a trading group, the French West African Company, before successively acquiring the Conforama, La Redoute and Printemps groups – this last purchase, tells us the legend of the man in a hurry, having been decided in five minutes in a taxi back from Geneva.

He was 60 years old when he took control, with his holding company Artémis, of the Stade Rennes football club but also of the flagship of the British auction, Christie’s. He was 63 when he took over Gucci, Saint Laurent and Balenciaga.

From 1998, and while he is preparing to hand over to his son François-Henri, do we believe that the billionaire will rest? Multiplying the trips back and forth between New York, Tokyo and Venice – where he opened, in 2006 and 2009, two palaces renovated by him, the Palazzo Grassi and the Punta Della Dogana – he devoted himself to art with the same devouring passion. .

To the point of surpassing, through his collection, the boss of the LVMH group, today one of the top three fortunes in the world: Bernard Arnault, 72 years old. Coming from a middle-class family in the North and initiated from childhood to impressionist painting, Arnault inaugurated, in 2014, in the Bois de Boulogne, a Foundation with avant-garde architecture. But his collection begins in the 19th century. While Pinault!

On his first exhibition visited at 25, in Pont-Aven: “I saw nothing, understood nothing. But I came back ”.

Exhibitions around the world

If he remembers having acquired at the age of 27 a painting by the post-impressionist Sérusier, representing a peasant woman who reminded him of his mother, the Breton entrepreneur has not stopped, since his first worldwide coup – the purchase , for nearly $ 10 million, from a Mondrian – to explore the studios of living artists with whom he became friends. It is now increasing its exhibitions around the world: “In this year 2021 alone, Aillagon emphasizes, the collection is present not only in Paris and Rennes, but at the Mucem in Marseille and in several museums in Milan, New York, London and Beijing ”.

For all those who are put off by an art market brewing so many billions, all those also who say they “do not understand” these contemporary works, François Pinault remembers his first exhibition visit. It was at Pont-Aven. He was 25 years old: “I saw nothing, understood nothing. But I came back ”.

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