Pierre Le-Tan (1950-2019) was born in Paris from a Vietnamese father and French mother. His father, a painter and son of a Tonkinese 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 age 17, Le-Tan was commissioned by the New Yorker Magazine for his first cover, which would mark the beginning of a long and fruitful collaboration and work with many other American publications, such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.
Spanning over more than 50 years, Le-Tan’s career has been rich and varied, from set design for film and theatre, to his association with his daughter Olympia’s Parisian fashion label and designing over 100 book covers and film posters. His close friendship with Patrick Modiano resulted in a number of collaborative works, with Modiano’s melancholic prose serving as the 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 at age seven and his Parisian apartment – previously Jean Cocteau’s pied-à-terre – is full of lacquered Japanese boxes, Chinese ceramics, drawings by Giacometti, Warhol and Hockney, ancient Greek antiquities and 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, and his careful curating of miniature museums on paper.
Le-Tan describes himself as an entomologist, focused on detail and observation, using Chinese ink to portray a mixture of tenderness and cruelty through 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.