Mon, Feb 23, 2009 - Page 11 News List

Art auction is ‘sale of century’

LOSS The late Yves Saint Laurent’s partner Pierre Berge is selling their art collection because without him, “it has lost the greater part of its significance”


A man looks at Qing Dynasty scultpure Paire de Coqs, on Saturday at the Grand Palais in Paris, where a three-day exhibition took place showing the art collection amassed over four decades by French fashion icon Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge, before it is auctioned off by Christies over three days, starting today.


From the Picassos that graced his walls to historic artifacts and hundreds of sculptures, the artwork that inspired late fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent has gone on display a few days before it is auctioned starting today.

Billed as “the sale of the century,” the auction of the 733-piece collection will disperse in three days a collection that took Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge half a century to amass.

Highlights include Piet Mondrian’s 1922 painting Composition in Blue, Red, Yellow and Black, whose squares of saturated colors inspired Saint Laurent’s legendary 1965 shift dress; a wooden sculpture by Romanian Constantin Brancusi that is expected to sell for up to 20 million euros (US$25 million); and a pair of bronze animal heads that disappeared from a Beijing palace in 1860 and that China now wants removed from the auction and returned.

The lot that’s expected to fetch the highest price is a 1914-1915 Picasso painting of a guitar, Instruments de musique sur un gueridon, (Musical Instruments on a Table) from the Spanish artist’s cubist period. The canvas features angular splotches of red, greens and mustard yellow against a somber gray background and is the last large-format painting from the period still in private hands, auction house Christie’s said.

The Picasso is estimated at between 25 million euros and 30 million euros.

Other lots include sculptures from ancient Egypt and Rome and 17th century Italy, ivory crucifixes and silver German beer steins that covered every available surface of Saint Laurent’s homes, as well as his Art Deco furniture and even his bed.

The sale is expected to gross 200 million euros to 300 million euros. A large portion of the proceeds is to go to a foundation to support AIDS research.

Saint Laurent died in June at age 71 after a battle with brain cancer.

“In 30 years in the auction business, I’ve never seen anything as good as this,” said Jonathan Rendell, vice president of Christie’s America.

Saint Laurent and Berge “collected at the very top of every area that they bought in, the very best Modernist pictures, the very best collection of Art Deco that I’ve ever seen come to sale, the German silver, the cameos,” he said.

“It’s really glamorous ... real luxury. The way they lived was extraordinary,” Rendell said.

A pre-auction exhibition at the Grand Palais divides the pieces according to theme, although in their homes, Berge and Saint Laurent mixed it up, placing a Picasso cubist painting above a delicate portrait by French neoclassical painter Ingres and covering Art Deco side tables with sculptures, serving bowls and silver cups made between the first and 20th centuries.

Snakes fascinated Saint Laurent and they adorn all sorts or items, slithering up a brass lamp, curled around a vase or embellishing the armrests on a chair by furniture designer Eileen Gray.

Controversy continued to swirl around the two Chinese bronzes — the heads of a rabbit and a rat — which Chinese officials want returned.

A Chinese-backed group on Friday asked a Paris judge to suspend the sale of the relics, which disappeared from a palace on the outskirts of Beijing in 1860 when French and British forces sacked it at the close of the second Opium War, Xinhua news Agency said.

The judge is expected to rule on the request this morning.

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