Analysis out of the box

Collector profile: Marie-Magdeleine Lessana

Analysis out of the boxContemporary Art |  » I only feel good around artists. » In a winding genealogical landscape where castles and titles pass from one generation to the next, Marie-Magdeleine Lessana shares an affinity for art inherited from her grandmother, Marthe de Savignies, an anti-conformist aristocrat, close to poets and artists.

Marie-Magdeleine Lessana devant ’’Rouge plasmique’’ de Jean-Pierre Bertrand © DR
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Marie-Magdeleine Lessana devant ’’Rouge plasmique’’ de Jean-Pierre Bertrand
© DR


For the young Marie-Magdeleine, this luminous character is a « beacon » in the sombre and austere childhood her parents dictated. She only has access to the bare necessities, money is carefully counted and artists are considered « freeloaders ». The black sheep in a brood of seven children, she is constantly scolded, deprived of amusements and denied access to contemporary works. She secretly copies Vincent Van Gogh reproductions, and this intimacy with the structure of his stokes is liberating. She continues her emancipation through the study of advanced mathematics and « attempts at painting » ; she becomes a psychoanalyst and writer, author of the bestseller « Between mother and daughter : a ravage ».

Contemporary Art

Looking for the meaning of a work of art doesn’t interest her. « Art gives us what we don’t have and what we don’t possess ». It is a force with a firm grasp on the idea of risk; art activates a « breach in the smooth, consensual social surface ».

First work

In Jean-Charles Blais’ studio, she saves a painting showing an « upright body walking in water » from the trash; this salutary desire incites the artist to resuscitate the work and to agree to sell it to her.


A collection takes shape in the euphoria of a joint project with her second husband; in 1987 they acquire a house in Paris « to show art and host artists ». Submerged in the effervescence of the 1980’s and 90’s, the mixing and mingling, with evenings spent in Montparnasse brasseries in the company of artists and intellectuals, they form a close relationship with Yvon Lambert. Purchases are made according to resonance : Richard Tuttle, Tony Cragg... In their enthusiasm to give life to artists’ projects, the couple produce exhibitions in their loft. After her divorce, she continues buying art, giving increased depth to the collection, in osmosis with the artists. Her Klossowski from the series « Roberte et les camionneur » is the fruit of a long quest to find the rare pearl, Jean-Pierre Bertrand’s « Rouge plasmique » is acquired after seeing it at the 1999 Venice Biennale : « pure life » , « the beating heart of my home ». Her watercolour of clouds by the British artist John Richard Ballard brings a sky space into her bedroom; her photograph « Marilyn aux roses » by Bert Stern is the cover of his essay « Marilyn, portrait d’une apparition » published in 2005; while her reclining man by Xavier Veilhan creates a disruptive space between humour and gravitas... When Sophie Calle invites her to participate in her Venice Biennale project (2007) « Prenez soin de vous » where 107 women are solicited to comment on a break-up letter of which the artist is the object, she takes up the offer. « I collect art work by work, by moments, a work that speaks to a moment ».


Money and art are closely linked to desire. « The act of buying is an event, an erotic act ». Proximity with art, works, artists, movements and events are a vital necessity for Marie-Magdeleine that nourishes her own creative sphere, the thread of her work as a writer.

Nina Rodrigues-Ely / Virginie Bertrand
Publié le 04/08/2015
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Version française

Marie-Magdeleine Lessana devant ’’Rouge plasmique’’ de Jean-Pierre Bertrand © DR Jean-Pierre Bertrand, «Etrog», 1999 et «Rouge Plasmique», 2000; William Kentridge, «Man into Tree», 2002 © DR Jean-Charles Blais, sans titre, 1986; Bert Stern, «Marilyn aux roses», 1962; Xavier Veilhan, «Le Gisant», 2006 © DR

Marie-Magdeleine Lessana devant ’’Rouge plasmique’’ de Jean-Pierre Bertrand
© DR

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