Mystery bidders paid millions of dollars for a pair of ancient Chinese bronzes at the record-smashing Yves Saint Laurent art auction in Paris, sparking angry protests from China yesterday.
The precious Qing dynasty fountainheads, looted from the imperial Summer Palace by British and French troops in 1860, were snapped up for 15.7 million euros (US$20.3 million) each on Wednesday.
The sale came at the end of a three-day auction of gems that graced the homes of Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge that fetched a total of 373.5 million euros, making it the biggest private art sale in history.
But Beijing immediately lashed out at Christie’s for selling the bronze rat and rabbit heads, vowing to place tougher checks on the auction house as it accused it of repeatedly selling smuggled Chinese relics.
In a statement, the agency said the auction had “harmed the cultural rights and hurt the feelings of China’s people and will seriously impact [Christie’s] development in China.”
Meanwhile, China yesterday said it would impose restrictions on Christie’s operations and exports of antiques from the country.
The administration issued a notice to all exit-and-entry offices, which approve the export of antiques, saying they should “carefully check heritage items that Christie’s seeks to import of export.”
Christie’s staff must provide “certificates of legal ownership” for all exported items, with detailed information on the history of ownership, the Xinhua news agency quoted the notice as saying.
“Entry and exit departments should immediately report to the SACH and local police and customs offices if they find relics owned by Christie’s that might have been looted or smuggled,” it said.
The administration also issued a separate statement accusing Christie’s of “violating international conventions” and the “common understanding” that such cultural relics should be returned to their country of origin, the agency said.
China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry had also demanded the return of the two “precious cultural treasures which were looted by the joint Anglo-French forces.”