Lights designed by Le Corbusier withdrawn from Paris auction at last minute

Artcurial auctioneers left surprised as sale of 100 light sconces from Firminy World Heritage site is halted

by Gareth Harris  |  7 June 2017
Lights designed by Le Corbusier withdrawn from Paris auction at last minute
An interior hallway showing the Le Corbusier-designed light sconces at the Unité d’habitation de Firminy, France (Office Public d’Habitation de Firminy; © DR, F.L.C., ADAGP)
More than 100 light sconces designed by the French-Swiss architect Le Corbusier (Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris) were withdrawn from a sale at the Paris-based auction house Artcurial last week (30 May), an hour before they were due to go under the hammer. 

The sconces came from the Unité d’habitation de Firminy (housing unit) in the Loire valley, the second largest site designed by Le Corbusier after the Complexe du Capitole in Chandigarh, India. Last year, the Firminy complex was designated by Unesco as a World Heritage site.

The items were consigned by the Firminy housing public office, the organisation that runs the block of 1,000 inhabitants. “In a pioneering approach to highlight its heritage, the [housing public office] decided to auction a selection of sconces to fund the restoration of Le Corbusier’s work,” says a statement from Artcurial. 

The Unité d’habitation de Firminy (housing unit) in the Loire valley designed by Le Corbusier (Office Public d’Habitation de Firminy; © DR, F.L.C., ADAGP)
In total, 27 lots—comprising sets of two, five and ten 1940s sconces with estimates of €600 to €800—were withdrawn from the 307-lot design sale after Firminy housing officials stepped in. According to the French newspaper Le Figaro, the housing association residents have since asked the French culture minister, Françoise Nyssen, to classify the light sconces as historical heritage items.

The Firminy housing block was renovated between 2001 and 2005. “It was then that the original wall sconces which lit up the entrance of the apartments were dismantled and replaced by replicas that meet new electrical standards,” says Emmanuel Bérard, the director of Artcurial’s design department. 

He told Le Figaro: “I found these objects. They were abandoned more than ten years ago; some of them were in a poor condition and of interest to no-one. Since Firminy has been listed by Unesco, they have become prized heritage pieces.” The Firminy housing public office declined to comment.   

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