Pierre Le-Tan was born in Paris in 1950, from a Vietnamese father and French mother. His father, a painter, son of Tonkenise Viceroy, emigrated to France before the war. Le-Tan learnt to draw at his father’s knee, who frequently gave him old Japanese and Chinese books and prints. At 17, Le-Tan is commissioned by the New Yorker Magazine for his first cover, the beginning of a long and fruitful collaboration, and worked with many other American publications such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.
Spanning over more than 50 years, Le-Tan career’s has been rich and varied, from set design for film and theatre, to his association with his daughter’s Olympia’s Parisian fashion label and designing the cover of over 100 books and film posters. His close friendship with Patrick Modiano resulted in a number of collaborative works, with Modiano’s melancholic prose serving as a perfect subtext to Le-Tan’s reflections of a forgotten Paris, full of strange and endearing characters. One of Le-Tan’s key publications, Album (1992), epitomises his intimate, eclectic style: a “scrapbook”, full of past encounters with Greta Garbo, Christian Lacroix and Mick Jagger, holiday souvenirs, photos of old friends, hundreds of drawings ranging from his visit to Cecil Beaton’s house to a cigarette box made by Picasso, Cardin shoes and a chair from the Palace of Versailles.
“I knew very early on that this was it for me and nothing else: drawing and my art collection”. As a child, Le-Tan frequented Les Puces de Saint-Ouen, the famed antiques market near Paris with his father. He started collecting aged 7, and his Parisian apartment, previously Jean Cocteau’s pied-a-terre, is full of lacquered Japanese boxes, Chinese ceramics, drawings by Giacometti, Warhol and Hockney, from ancient Greek antiquities to 18th Century Turkish carpets. Le-Tan’s collection underlines his constant visual dialogue between East and West, the antique and the contemporary. His avid passion for collecting is reflected in his drawings, his minute attention to objects and detail, his careful curating of his miniature museums on paper.
Le-Tan describes himself as an entomologist, focused on detail and observation, using China ink to portray with a mixture of tenderness and cruelty his nostalgic and timeless interiors and characters. “His drawings must be read and his words must be seen” says his friend and writer Umberto Pasti – indeed, Le-Tan, who describes himself as Asian in his style of drawing perpetuates the Asian tradition of blurring the boundaries between what should be read and what should be seen, creating a wonderful and intimate visual language.