Works from the Renault Group’s Art Collection Are Coming to Christie’s

The automaker is parting with a portion of its 550-piece art collection to fund a new cultural endowment.

Rainbow colored painting with color-blocked horizontal stripes
Julio Le Parc, Volume Virtuel, (1974). Courtesy Christie's

Renault may be best known for its production of cars and its role in races like Formula One. The famous French automaker also has an extensive corporate art collection, one that dates back to the 1960s and includes works by major 20th-century artists like Jean Dubuffet, Robert Rauschenberg and Sam Francis.

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Now, Renault is gearing up to sell off a portion of its 550-piece collection to make way for more contemporary acquisitions. Some thirty-three artworks will be sold by Christie's in a live auction on June 6, while an additional online sale between May 30 and June 7 will feature the company’s works by Henri Michaux.

Unlike most corporate art collections, Renault’s art holdings include numerous pieces that were specifically created for the carmaker via a series of commissions that can be traced back to 1967, when executive Claude Renard, who counted artists like André Malraux among his friends, decided to create a partnership model that provided creatives with access to workshops. The company prioritized cooperation with artists interested in the concept of industry and its role in society in a model that allowed them to choose which facets of Renault to emphasize. The artist Jean Tinguely, who had a fascination with machines, drew inspiration from the company’s assembly lines.

The Renault collection, which includes paintings, sculptures and some 200 photographs, was often exhibited in the firm’s industrial buildings, and the company urged its staff to meet with the involved artists to develop their understanding of and appreciation for contemporary artwork.

Abstract painting of red, white and blue colored squiggles
Jean Debuffet, Lice tapisse, (1972). Courtesy Christie's

Highlighting the Renault auction are Dubuffet’s Lice tapisse from the French painter’s renowned L’Hourloupe series, which has an estimate of 1 million euros ($1.1 million) to 1.5 million euros ($1.6 million). Two other pieces from the project, Le Moment critique (site avec deux personnages) and Fiston la Filoche, will also be in the auction, with respective high estimates of 800,000 euros ($861,000) and 600,000 euros ($646,000).

Other lots come from Victor Vasarely, a Hungarian-French artist with close ties to the automaker. He created Renault’s iconic logo in the 1970s—the angular diamond that was in use for decades. Three of Vasarely’s works are to be auctioned by Christie’s, including his monochrome painting Tönk, which has an estimate of between 100,000 euros ($108,000) and 150,000 euros ($161,000).

Collage of nine red-hued photographs
Robert Rauschenberg, 1-800 (Salvage), (1984). Courtesy Christie's

Other lots set to go on the block include Francis’ 1980 Untitled, which is expected to fetch between 200,000 euros ($215,000) and 300,000 euros ($323,000), and Rauschenberg’s 1984 1-800 Salvage, which could realize between 180,000 euros ($194,000) and 250,000 euros ($269,000). The live auction will also offer up works by leading artists in the Kinetic art movement like the Venezuelan Jesús-Rafael Soto, Argentine Julio Le Parc and French Jean Fautrier. Its online sale devoted to Michaux, meanwhile, will showcase thirty works with affordable estimates ranging from 3,000 euros ($3,200) to 8,000 euros ($8,600).

Renault is selling art to acquire new works

Proceeds from both auctions will fund a newly established endowment at Renault focused on art, culture and heritage that will let the company add new artists and works to its holdings. The initiative will also support the creation of a collection of street art—a movement that first appeared in France in the 1960s and 1970s.

Renault isn’t the only carmaker with a foot in the art world. Auto companies including Cadillac and Volvo host a range of art exhibitions and events, while BMW (BMWYY) has since 1975 brought on artists like Alexander Calder, Andy Warhol and Jenny Holzer to paint its BMW Art Car, which is subsequently used in races including Les Mans.

“In the 1960s, when Renault began building a corporate art collection echoing its operations, it demonstrated its pioneering and innovative spirit,” said Cécile Verdier, president of Christie’s France, in a statement. “Now, true to its reputation for always being a step ahead, Renault is embarking on a new stage in its history.”

Works from the Renault Group’s Art Collection Are Coming to Christie’s