A towering bed featuring a lifesize naked nymph, which was commissioned by a 19th-century courtesan for her Champs Élysées home, is one of the more eye-catching lots in a forthcoming auction of erotic art.
The bed, which has been in a private collection since the contents of a Parisian brothel were sold after the second world war, is one of the many lots going under the hammer.
“There’s a lot going on in that bed,” Constantine Frangos said, after a year touring the world collecting pieces for the sale ranging from cheerful pin-up art to works by some of the most famous artists of the 20th century, including Pablo Picasso, Lucian Freud, Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt, as well as Marc Quinn and, more surprisingly, Antony Gormley.
“I did ask the owner if the bed had been in use since 1947 – and apparently it has, though not on an everyday basis.”
The bed was commissioned by Esther Thérèse Lachmann, known as La Païva, for her mansion home on the Champs Élysées. When the makers quoted her the enormous price of 50,000 gold francs, she is said to have demanded that they double the cost and make it even more fantastic.
She never slept or played in it for a single night: by the time it was ready she had fled Paris with her much younger third husband, Count Guido Henckel von Donnersmarck, a mining magnate.
The bed, which weighs half a tonne and is carved in Cuban mahogany, was sold instead to an equally infamous brothel, La Fleur Blanche, whose luxurious interiors were recorded by one of its aristocratic regulars, the artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
The building was requisitioned by the German army in the second world war, and its contents later scattered at auction.
“I was there when it arrived in packing crates and was assembled in our warehouse,” Frangos said, “it is a really astonishing thing, photographs don’t do it justice.” It is estimated to fetch up to £800,000.
One of the most startling pieces is modern, allegedly a copy of a genuine table from a chamber of erotica built for Catherine the Great, claimed to have been photographed before it was destroyed by fire in the 20th century.
Frangos did a double take when he went to a client’s home to view pieces for another sale, and finally looked properly at the table, which stood in an ordinary domestic setting, usefully holding a lamp: the legs are modelled as realistically painted giant penises supported by pairs of breasts.
It was one of the pieces Frangos said required a vote by a group of his colleagues on whether it should be included.
The sculptures include an 1896 marble by the French artist Jacques Loysel of a naked woman writhing in ecstasy or horror, which the artist regarded as his masterpiece and kept in his studio for the rest of his life.
The oldest works are Roman marbles, and the most recent include the gold-plated maquette for Quinn’s Siren, an image of the supermodel Kate Moss in an impossible yoga position. A full-size version of the work was later cast in solid gold.
The Antony Gormley, Pole II, although modelled like all his work on his own naked body, is far from obviously erotic, a stylised human figure standing on its head, resembling a pile of boxes.
“We have titled the sale Erotic: Passion and Desire, and many people have desire for works of contemporary art,” Frangos explained.
The writer Rowan Pelling, former editor of the Erotic Review magazine, who has guest curated part of the sale, writes in the catalogue: “What becomes clear as you ponder the arresting display of paintings, sculptures and erotic artefacts, is that there’s no form of modern sexual behaviour that hasn’t already been perfected by our forebears.”
The collection will be on display at Sotheby’s from 11 February before the auction on 16 February.