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Saint Laurent Collection Soars at Christie’s Paris

Despite the continuing financial crisis, the Paris auction of the private art collection of the late French couturier Yves Saint Laurent and his partner, Pierre Bergé, made history Feb. 23–25, breaking several records.

PARIS—Despite the continuing financial crisis, the Paris auction of the private art collection of the late French couturier Yves Saint Laurent and his partner, Pierre Bergé, made history Feb. 23–25, breaking several records. The sale, widely touted as the “auction of the century,” was held by Christie’s at the Grand Palais in conjunction with Bergé’s auction house, Pierre Bergé & Associés. As ARTnewsletter went to press, the three-day, six-part auction series had brought in more than €373.9 million ($483.8 million), well above the overall estimate of €200 million/300 million.

Bergé decided to sell the 733-piece collection, amassed over a half-century, after Saint Laurent passed away last year, at 71, after a yearlong battle with brain cancer. A large portion of the proceeds of the sale are to be donated to support AIDS research.

The first session of the auction, an evening sale on Feb. 23 that featured 59 works of Impressionist and modern art, took in a total of €206 million ($263.6 million) and set world records for works by Henri Matisse, Constantin Brancusi, Piet Mondrian, Giorgio de Chirico, Marcel Duchamp, Paul Klee and James Ensor. The result set a record for any auction in Europe, and broke the world record for the sale of a private collection, previously held by the Victor and Sally Ganz collection, sold by Christie’s in 1997 for $206.5 million. According to auction house representatives, 70 percent of the buying at the auction came from Europe and 30 percent from the Americas.

Matisse’s Les coucous, tapis bleu et rose (Cowslips on blue and pink cloth), 1911, estimated at €12 million/18 million, sold for a record €32.1 million ($45.3 million), shattering the previous record for a work by the French painter of $33.6 million, set by L’odalisque, harmonie bleue, 1937, at Christie’s in New York in 2007 (ANL, 11/27/07). Les coucous was acquired by private dealer Franck Giraud, who was also the winning bidder for Duchamp’s Belle haleine–Eau de voilette, 1921, a readymade of a perfume bottle in its box. Estimated at €1 million/1.5 million, the Duchamp work sold for a record €8.9 million ($11.5million).

Michael Findlay, director of Acquavella Galleries, New York, told ARTnewsletter he was “pleasantly surprised” at the strong bidding. “People who have the ability to spend money on serious works of art need the confidence to know that there is no point in waiting. When the opportunity comes, you have to seize it. Great things are not necessarily going to be less expensive tomorrow.”

Despite the records, the highest-estimated lot, Pablo Picasso’s Cubist painting Instruments de musique sur un guéridon (Musical Instruments on a Table), 1914–15, surprised observers by failing to sell. The work was estimated at €25 million/30 million ($32 million/38million), but the highest bid reached only €21 million.

Another world record was set for a work by Brancusi with an early wooden sculpture measuring some three feet. Madame L.R. (Portrait de Mme L.R.), circa 1914–17, estimated at €15 million/20 million, fetched €29.2 million ($36.8 million). The work, never before seen in public, had once been owned by Fernand Léger. The previous record for a work by Brancusi was $27.45 million, set by Bird in Space, 1922–23, in May 2005 at Christie’s in New York (ANL, 5/24/05).

Mondrian’s Composition with Blue, Red, Yellow and Black, 1922, whose vivid squares of primary color were said to have inspired a legendary Saint Laurent dress design from 1965, fetched €21.6 million ($27.9 million) from private dealer Philippe Ségalot (estimate: €7 million/10 million). Another Mondrian work, Composition with Grid 2, 1918–19, sold for €14.4 million ($18.6 million) against an estimate of €7 million/10 million.

Léger’s La tasse de thé, 1921, sold for €11.5 million ($14.9 million) on an estimate of €10 million/15 million. Another stunning sale, Matisse’s Nu au bord de la mer, 1909, sold for €8.2 million ($10.6 million), soaring above the estimate of E4million/6million.

World records were also set for works by Klee, whose oil on canvas Gartenfigur, 1932 (estimate: €600,000/900,000), sold for €3.9 million ($5 million), and de Chirico, whose painting Il Ritornante, 1918 (estimate: €7 million/10 million), sold for €11 million ($14.3 million).

Also among the offerings was a landscape by Edgar Degas that had hung beside Bergé’s bed for 20 years. Paysage d’Italie vu par une lucarne, circa 1856–59, sold for €457,000 ($576,129) on an estimate of €300,000/400,000.

The collection also included sculptures from ancient Egypt and 17th-century Italy, as well as ivory crucifixes, German silver, Art Deco furniture, and even the designer’s bed.

The sale preview was held at the Grand Palais, where a display was set up to re-create the setting of a grand Parisian apartment. The designer’s creations were inspired by his passion for paintings, and the sale also included works by Paul Gauguin, Edouard Manet, Paul Cézanne, Georges Seurat, Juan Gris, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Gustav Klimt, Edvard Munch, Klee and Léger. On the weekend before the auction, crowds of fans, art lovers and collectors waited in line for up to five hours outside the Grand Palais to see the collection. The exhibition recorded 12,500 visitors per day.

Old Master Offerings Score Record Prices

On Feb. 24, a painting by Théodore Géricault led the afternoon sale and set a new artist auction record. Portrait of Alfred and Elisabeth Dedreux, circa 1818, sold for €9 million ($11.7 million), well above the €4 million/6 million estimate. Another auction record was achieved for Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, when Portrait de la comtesse de La Rue, 1804 (estimate: €2 million/3 million), sold for €2.1 million ($2.7million).

At that evening’s sale of 20th-century decorative arts, a “Dragons” armchair designed by Eileen Gray, circa 1917–19, soared past the €2 million/3 million estimate to sell for €21.9 million ($28.3 million) to Paris dealers Robert and Cheska Vallois, bidding on behalf of a private collector. The sale of decorative arts was followed by a session dedicated to Asian art, ceramics, furniture, Islamic art and antiquities.

Early on Feb. 23, a Paris court had rejected the Chinese government’s bid to stop the inclusion of two bronzes from the Qing dynasty, Qianlong period, in that sale. Chinese officials said the sculptures, of the heads of a rabbit and a rat, had been looted from a fountain decorated with figures from the Chinese zodiac in the Imperial Summer Palace on the outskirts of Beijing in 1860 and should be returned. At the Feb. 25 sale, the bronzes each sold for €15.7million ($20.1million), far surpassing the €10 million/15 million estimate.

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