Bon Vivant

Brigitte Bardot with Gunter Sachs in St Tropez France, 1967 © Gamma-Rapho

Gunter Sachs: Life of a Playboy.

Imagine for a moment that you are born with more wealth than you can ever spend. That was the tale of the likeable international playboy Fritz Gunter Sachs, heir of the Opel fortune, one of Europe's largest car manufacturers. Gunter always used to say that he never really needed to work a day in his life. But in fact, he turned out to be a pretty savvy entrepreneur later in life. He dabbled in photography and astrology but his bet on modern art made him wealthy beyond imagination. In his early years though, he pretty much took his role as a jet-setting playboy very seriously. Sammy Davis Jr. once ran into the dapper Don Juan at lunch sitting at a bar. Gunter Sachs was dressed to the nines, drinking a Ramos gin fizz. The Rat Packer asked Gunter how he kept going. Gunter replied "your profession is being an entertainer, mine is being a playboy".

There is a saying that money doesn't buy class, especially in the upper echelons, but that did not appear to be a problem for Gunter; he seemingly had all the class in the world and plenty of good manners too. Gunter "Sexy" Sachs, as he was also called in those days by his numerous girlfriends, was a most charming- and generous casanova, a veritable poster child of the European jet set with movie-star appeal, multilingual skills, fashionable attire and more money than he could burn or give away (he tried but he always managed to multiply his money somehow).

Brigitte Bardot with Gunter Sachs in France, 1968 © Sipahioglu Rex Features

A yacht, private planes, handbuilt cars, go-karts, first-class travel, opulent houses along the Riviera, apartments in Paris and Munich, Gunter Sachs basically had it all. He was also extremely generous and lavished his friends, rich and poor for that matter, with attentions and gifts throughout his life. His flamboyant yet charming life style captured the imagination at European golf courses, tennis courts, polo grounds, ski resorts and at the bobsled races. Gunter Sachs traveled, played, dived, skied and made tuns of love... Gunter loved to throw wild parties too, a lot of parties. During the 1960s, he could be found at the traditional jet set hang outs; Capri, St Tropez along the Côte d'Azur, Paris, Munich, St Moritz and eventually Gstaad where he would settle. A jet setting womanizing playboy by choice, Gunter Sachs was once even romantically linked to the former Iranian queen Soraya Esfandiary Bachtiary (her family didn't approve and the engagement was called off). Gunter would eventually marry three times. His first wife, Anne-Marie Faure, died tragically young during surgery in 1958.

Just Married: Gunter Sachs and Brigitte Bardot in 1968.

He courted his second wife, French bombshell beauty Brigitte Bardot, by flying over her villa on the French Riviera in a helicopter and dropping hundreds of roses. When he feared that would not be enough, he had his helicopter fly over again and had him dropped into the sea, preceded by two suitcases. He was determined to stay. "It's not every day that a man drops a tonne of roses in your yard," Brigitte Bardot later wrote. Gunter and Brigitte were married on July 14th 1966 in Las Vegas; the ceremony lasted eight minutes and their marriage three years. Yet even long after his 1969 divorce from Brigitte Bardot, Gunter Sachs reminisced: "A year with Bardot was worth 10 with anyone else".

Mirja Larsson with Gunter Sachs in the early 1970s.

His final marriage was to Swedish former model, Mirja Larsson, who was 26 and cute-as-a-button, at the time of their engagement. His marriage to Mirja lasted his lifetime. Mirja settled him down in a way that no other woman had been able to accomplish. Mirja was a smart and tender woman and the two of them made a wonderful pair. After he settled down with Mirja Larsson he occupied himself with photography; one of his notable muses was Claudia Schiffer. Friends and women especially were his life, but he also amassed an impressive modern art collection.

Together with Konstantin von Bayern he established the Modern Art Museum in Munchen Germany. Gunter was an avid art collector from the late 1950s onwards and was a serious collector of the surrealists, Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte and Max Ernst, together with the French 'new realists', Yves Klein and Jean Fautrier. Gunter also opened a pretty upscale modern art gallery in Hamburg. Because of the ignorance in modern art at that time, many paintings by Andy Warhol, Tom Wesselmann, Roy Lichtenstein and César went unsold. I know that may sound unthinkable nowadays...but those were the good old days (they aren't coming back). Gunter ended up with a lot of unsold artwork from top notch artists. He used the art to decorate his own apartment in St. Mortiz and Gstaad.

Gunter Sachs's life was dramatic until the very end. The German billionaire and ex-husband of Brigitte Bardot fatally shot himself at his chalet in Gstaad, Switzerland, at age 78, on May 7th 2011, leaving a suicide note that revealed his struggle with Alzheimer's, the illness he dubbed "A". "The loss of mental control over my life was an undignified condition, which I decided to counter decisively,” read the signed note, released by Sachs' family. Gunter's wife, Mirja Larsson, is now selling close to 300 works including several iconic pieces that celebrate Brigitte Bardot's beauty (we are not surprised).

Andy Warhol
Brigitte Bardot
Executed in 1974
Estimate: £3,000,000– 4,000,000

The highlight of the sale is an exceptional Andy Warhol portrait of Brigitte Bardot which Gunter commissioned from Andy Warhol in 1974, five years after the couple divorced. Based on a photography of Bardot taken by Richard Avedon, this work was commissioned by Gunter Sachs to hang as a "pendant" to his own portraits that he had commissioned in 1972. Created according to Gunter Sachs' specifications, the full-lipped beauty of the screen was transformed by Andy Warhol into a timeless image of feminine beauty. Richard Avedon's 1959 source photograph of Brigitte Bardot will also be included in the same sale.

Allen Jones
Mannequin Furniture, Hat-Stand
Executed in 1969
Estimate: £30,000– 40,000

Richard Avedon
Brigitte Bardot Silver Print Photograph 6/35
Executed in 1959
Estimate: £40,000– 60,000

Sotheby's lucked out and was able to convince Gunther's family to auction part of their estate. Sotheby's in London will be offering close to 300 art works from Gunter and Mirja's collection in London this May, with an estimate in excess of £20 million.  The collection spans numerous categories, from Surrealism and Noveau Realism, to Pop Art, Art Deco, Furniture...even Graffiti. Many works from his collection are still retained by his family, the Sotheby's sale is just the tip of the iceberg.