Gallerist Arthur de Villepin: ‘I’ve just had a run with Van Gogh’

Gene Selby

My personal style signifier depends on where I am. My background is multicultural – I was born in the US, raised in India and studied in the UK. What I love about style is how it changes according to different cities. When I go to New York, for instance, I might wear […]

My personal style signifier depends on where I am. My background is multicultural – I was born in the US, raised in India and studied in the UK. What I love about style is how it changes according to different cities. When I go to New York, for instance, I might wear a T-shirt and boots – maybe even a hat. I usually shop at vintage stores when I’m there; my favourites are What Goes Around Comes Around and Stock Vintage, which focuses on American menswear from the 1930s to the 1960s. In Hong Kong, I dress more smartly – I might wear a Tom Ford suit paired with Vans. For downtime, I like classic activewear pieces by Acne Studios

The last thing I bought and loved was a small photo by Brassaï. He is famous for capturing 1920s Paris by night and much of his work depicts lovers or people in bars, but this image is of a dog’s head drawn on a napkin. The drawing was a gift from Picasso to Dora Maar, who had lost her beloved dog. Every time they went to a restaurant, Picasso would draw her dog on a napkin to cheer her up. I love that story, and I love that Brassaï recorded one of these moments with this photo. 

Arthur de Villepin at home in Hong Kong © Amanda Kho
An Omega watch given to de Villepin by his grandfather
An Omega watch given to de Villepin by his grandfather © Amanda Kho

And on my wishlist is a small painting by Alfred Wallis. I’ve always been fascinated by English artists either from Cornwall or who made their home there – Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, Terry Frost. Wallis was self-taught and his style is very simplistic. I love the way he painted the sea. We always talk about modern art emerging from Paris, but so many artists moved from London and gathered in Cornwall during the war. Their stories are amazing. 

The best gift I’ve given recently is a 1967 Fender Jaguar electric guitar to my sister, Marie. She’s an artist, but before that she was in rock bands. I’ve always been interested in how she relates her paintings to music. She already has a few guitars but it’s never enough. 

And the best gift I’ve received recently is a painting by Korean artist Myonghi Kang, who I’ve known for more than 10 years and is the subject of our latest exhibition at Villepin, the gallery I co-founded with my father, Dominique. She gave me a painting called Sky, which is about how she looks at nature. She always paints in the wild, secluded from everyone. 

The best book I’ve read in the past year is Ninth Street Women by Mary Gabriel. It’s about the New York art scene in the 1940s and ’50s from the perspective of five female artists: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell and Helen Frankenthaler. I found it so interesting to revisit history through their lens, and you realise there was a lot happening in the shadows of other successful artists from that period such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.

De Villepin’s favourite recent reads include Mary Gabriel’s Ninth Street Women
De Villepin’s favourite recent reads include Mary Gabriel’s Ninth Street Women © Amanda Kho
De Villepin with his dog, Harley: “He’s changed my life”
De Villepin with his dog, Harley: “He’s changed my life” © Amanda Kho

The place I can’t wait to go back to is Sant’Angelo on the south coast of the island of Ischia, off Naples. I usually go every summer. The food is amazing, and the few restaurants there will always remember you when you return each year. You feel isolated from the whole world – I love it.

And the best souvenir I’ve brought home is Harley, my dog. I got him from a shelter on Hong Kong Island. I only went there to look, but I couldn’t stop thinking about him on my way back to Lantau, where I live. He’s changed my life. There’s no resentment with dogs – they’ll always be there for you.

My style icon is the late French fashion designer Emanuel Ungaro, who was a family friend. More than anything, I admired his attitude and the way he curated his life. Naturally, he was elegant, but it was more about how he wanted to live. And that is what I would consider style.

Tabasco – one of de Villepin’s fridge staples
Tabasco – one of de Villepin’s fridge staples © Amanda Kho

In my fridge you’ll always find lemons to have in hot water every morning, Dijon mustard and then pecorino, pancetta and tomatoes – the ingredients for my favourite dish, pasta all’amatriciana. I like my food spicy, so I’ll usually have a bottle of Tabasco hanging around as well.

The last music I downloaded was “Zombie” by Fela Kuti, the Nigerian Afrobeat artist. I love that he was so socially engaged – he used his music as a weapon. I want to dance every time I hear his songs.

The gadget de Villepin can’t do without – Apple AirPods Pro
The gadget de Villepin can’t do without – Apple AirPods Pro © Amanda Kho

The gadget I couldn’t do without is a pair of Apple AirPods Pro. Hong Kong is like New York – there’s noise everywhere, all day. These allow me to shut down and find silence in an instant. And, of course, I also use them to listen to music. £249, apple.com

The last item of clothing I added to my wardrobe was a warm pair of socks by John Smedley, from Mr Porter. This might sound ridiculous at this time of year, but I chose a pair that I usually wear during the winter in Paris. Travelling is really on my mind at the moment. £12.50, mrporter.com

De Villepin’s John Smedley socks from Mr Porter
De Villepin’s John Smedley socks from Mr Porter © Amanda Kho
“Sans Titre”, de Villepin’s 1949 artwork by Zao Wou-Ki
“Sans Titre”, de Villepin’s 1949 artwork by Zao Wou-Ki © Amanda Kho

An object I would never part with is a small artwork on paper by the Chinese-French artist Zao Wou-Ki, which he gave me when I was 18. I put it in Friendship & Reconciliation, my first exhibition in Hong Kong. A few people asked me how much it was, but I’d never sell it. Gifts from artists are things that you should cherish the most.

The grooming staple I’m never without is Scent One: Hinoki by Monocle and Comme des Garçons, which is inspired by hinoki soaking tubs at the Tawaraya, Kyoto’s best ryokan. It’s fresh, woody and full of character. £80 for 50ml, monocle.com

De Villepin’s grooming staple: Scent One: Hinoki by Monocle and Comme des Garçons
De Villepin’s grooming staple: Scent One: Hinoki by Monocle and Comme des Garçons © Amanda Kho

My wellbeing gurus are my friends, who I join up with most Sundays for a big run along the catchwater in Lantau, which is surrounded by nature. Otherwise I run with my podcasts. Sometimes I come back and say, “I’ve just had a run with Van Gogh.” It makes me feel I’m learning at the same time, and pushes me to keep a steady pace.

If I didn’t live in Hong Kong, the city I would live in is Rome. I’m crazy for Rome. For me, it’s all about the food. There are two main restaurants I love there: Trattoria al Moro, a family restaurant near the Trevi Fountain, and Pizzeria da Baffetto, which I think serves the best pizza in the city.

My favourite websites are mostly related to my work. I use Artprice to check on the market, ARTnews for updates and, of course, Christie’s and Sotheby’s. I also love a site called history.com for fascinating takes on the subject, such as a recent piece about Josephine Baker, the Jazz Age entertainer employed by the French Resistance to collect information on Nazi Germany.

Wines by Pont des Arts, which de Villepin co-founded
Wines by Pont des Arts, which de Villepin co-founded © Amanda Kho

An indulgence I would never forgo is wine. The thing I like most is the people behind the labels. When I first arrived in Hong Kong, I started a wine company called Pont des Arts with a friend of mine. Sometimes the winemakers I work with run châteaux that are worth a fortune, but they’re so down-to-earth because they’re dependent on the wine, which is dependent on nature. My current favourites are Pomerol 2016 from Château La Conseillante and Abbaye de Morgeot 2014, which was made in collaboration with Etienne de Montille in Chassagne-Montrachet. pontdesarts-wine.com

If I weren’t doing what I do, I’d be a diplomat, which is what my father started off doing. I studied international relations and politics at the University of Bath, and I love the idea of understanding different cultures and bringing people together. 

De Villepin at home in Hong Kong
De Villepin at home in Hong Kong © Amanda Kho

The podcast I’m listening to is Toute Une Vie, which tells different stories about people in the arts. I recently listened to an episode about Peggy Guggenheim, who collected art over her whole life. There are also episodes about art dealers such as Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler– I listen to their stories because it helps me think about what kind of role I want to have in the industry. I don’t just want to sell paintings – I want to grow a community and bring artists and collectors together. 

I’ve recently discovered the importance of friendship. I haven’t left Hong Kong for nine months, which is the longest it’s been since I moved here 10 years ago. The need to connect and to create meaningful relationships has never been so important. You have to nurture your friends, take time to do those Zoom calls and to share more.

The one artist whose work I would collect if I could is Van Gogh, but most of his paintings are in museums now. A more realistic dream would be Cy Twombly, who appeals to my inner child. He’s created his own language. At first it was a bit difficult to understand his work, which is exactly why I like it. I like things that unsettle me. I’m curious, so I dig and dig. The more I dig, the more I love his art. 

Next Post

The future of bitcoin, cryptocurrency, blockchain, and NFTs

In the past year, we’ve seen multi-million-dollar NFT sales, Dogecoin drama, cryptocurrency price uncertainty, ransomware hackers being paid off in Bitcoin, and growing concern over the environmental impact of cryptocurrency mining. Behind those headlines, a larger movement was happening. Cryptocurrency, and the blockchain that underpins it, is evolving as a […]