Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped has been 60 years in the making. This autumn will mark the unveiling of their final temporary work in Paris, the city where they first met in 1958.

The duo – partners in life and work – will posthumously wrap the international landmark in 25,000 sq m of silvery-blue polypropylene fabric and red rope from 18 September to 3 October 2021, 63 years on from Christo’s arrival in the city as a Bulgarian political refugee. 

Christo in his studio working on a preparatory drawing for L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, New York City, 2020
Christo in his studio working on a preparatory drawing for L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, New York City, 2020. Photography: Anastas Petkov. © 2020 Christo and Jeanne-Claude Foundation

Christo, who died at the age of 84 in 2020, was an artist who rarely stood still. Even in his final year, he was working towards wrapping up the Arc de Triomphe in great swathes of fabric, a project that, as per the artist’s wishes, will at last reach fruition. 

During the installation of L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, Sotheby’s Paris will show ‘The Final Christo’, an exhibition of 25 works on paper narrating the story of this monumental project, from early fantasy to final, posthumous realisation. These works defy categorisation. They are a marriage of different media, juxtaposing maps, architectural plans, photographs and engineering drawings with exquisitely handled pastel and paint. These are the inner workings of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s final, extraordinary vision. 

Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Arc de Triomphe Collage #5, 2019
Christo, Arc de Triomphe Medium #5 2020 , 2019Credit: Sotheby’s/ArtDigital Studio

Christo and Jeanne-Claude were best known for site-specific work enveloping monumental landmarks and environmental sites in fabric. Though equal partners, the pair originally worked solely under Christo’s name, a decision made to bolster their chances of success in a time of prejudice against female artists. In 1994, Jeanne-Claude was unveiled as the other half of the process, and all installations were attributed to Christo and Jeanne-Claude, even following Jeanne-Claude’s death in 2009. 

Divisive, political, and relentlessly ambitious, the duo’s work dominated both urban and natural environments, transforming iconic landmarks and landscapes beyond recognition, what Christo referred to as ‘gentle disturbances’. 

Christo, Arc de Triomphe Large #7. Credit: Sotheby’s/ArtDigital Studio
Christo, Arc de Triomphe Large #7. Credit: Sotheby’s/ArtDigital Studio

Proceeds from each work in Sotheby’s sale will benefit both the L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped project, and the Christo Jeanne-Claude Foundation, established to secure the artists’ legacy. The exhibition marks Sotheby’s second partnership with Christo’s estate, following the ‘white glove’ sale of his collection in February 2021

‘Our work of art is a scream of freedom’ was the famous rallying cry of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, their art a gesture of unfettered liberty. Throughout their career, they systematically refused sponsorship, grants, volunteer labour, and all forms of merchandising and monetising. ‘To keep that absolute freedom we cannot be obliged to anyone,’ Christo once noted.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Arc de Triomphe Collage #5, 2019

Christo, Arc de Triomphe Collage #5, 2019. Credit: Sotheby’s/ArtDigital Studio

Many of their ideas were realised in a backdrop of bank loans, passion and unwavering determination. But this meant that their preparatory work carried even more weight; their concepts were financed through the sale of final works, but also the preliminary drawings of projects. 

‘Christo’s original works demonstrate the imagination and technical brio of an artist who dreamed the impossible and made it unforgettably real. These works made possible the seminal projects that dominated Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s later career.’ says Simon Shaw, vice chairman of Sotheby’s. ‘Their sale was the sole means of funding their public projects, such as New York’s The Gates and Berlin’s Wrapped Reichstag. While the nature of these installations was always to be temporary, lasting only a matter of days, they live forever in two places: in the collective imagination and in Christo’s breath-taking original works.’ §

Drawing for L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped by Christo and Jeanne-Claude
Christo, Arc de Triomphe 14 x 11, 2019. Credit: Sotheby’s/ArtDigital Studio