Bids for couturier Yves Saint Laurent’s private art collection hit 206 million euros (US$261 million) on Monday, making it the most expensive ever auctioned with two days left to run.
Six world record bids for works by major modern artists and dozens of lesser sales confirmed the global reputation of the collection amassed over half a century by Saint Laurent and his lifelong companion Pierre Berge.
“I think Yves would’ve been very happy,” Berge told the press.
Hundreds of buyers gathered under the spectacular glass and cast iron vaults of the Grand Palais exhibition hall on the banks of the Seine, transformed for the historic three-day event into a cavernous high-tech auction house.
The biggest bid for the night was for a Matisse painting, Cuckoos on a Blue and Pink Carpet, which went for a record 32 million euros, smashing the auctioneer’s pre-sale estimate of 18 million euros.
By contrast, the much anticipated Pablo Picasso work Musical Instruments on a Table flopped. Bidding fell short of the 25-million-euro guide price, the biggest in the collection, and the piece was withdrawn unsold.
“I’m very happy because now I can keep it,” Berge said. “Not only did this sale attain an unexpected sum, but on top of that I won a Picasso.”
Works by other artists, including Dutch abstract painter Piet Mondrian, Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi and French innovator Marcel Duchamp, earned record sums, well above earlier estimates.
Meanwhile, a Paris court rejected a bid to block the sale of two bronze sculptures claimed by China that are to be included in the Saint Laurent auction, a court official said on Monday.
APACE, an association representing Chinese cultural and heritage interests, filed an appeal to have the sale blocked but the Tribunal de Grande Instance in Paris rejected it, an official at the Paris court said.
The court also ordered APACE to pay auctioneer’s Christie’s and Pierre Berge, Saint Laurent’s former business manager and companion, 1,000 euros in costs each.
The two sculptures, representing the head of a rat and the head of a rabbit, were taken from the Summer Palace in Beijing when it was burnt down by invading French and British forces in 1860 during the Second Opium War.
They were acquired by Saint Laurent and Berge as they built up what has been called one of the most important collections of art in private hands, but Chinese officials have said the sculptures rightfully belong to China and should be returned.