The Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé Sale

The Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé Sale

Paris – As many expected, and the art market hoped, the avalanche of publicity for the auction of the Yves Saint Laurent-Pierre Bergé art and furniture collection led to a record-smashing sale for a private collection-at the end of the three-day extravaganza the grand total was a €373.5 million, or approximately $477 million.

A world records was set for Matisse. with his 1911 Cowslips, Pink and Blue Cloth sold to an anonymous buyer bidding through New York-based French art dealer Franck Giraud for twice the high estimate at €35.9 million ($44.5 million). World records were also set for works by Brancusi, Mondrian, Ensor, Klee, Marcel Duchamp and Giorgio de Chirico. On the furniture and design side, a 1917-1919 “dragon” armchair by Eileen Gray set a world record for 20th-century design at €21.9 million ($28 million).

On the final evening, the sale’s most controversial items, a superb pair of 18th-century Chinese Qing dynasty bronze animal heads-a rat and a rabbit-together sold for €31.4 million ($40.5 million), despite a legal challenge from a European-based private organization and objections from the Chinese government. The two bronzes are thought to be part of an original dozen heads, ornamenting an imperial zodiac fountain, which were pillaged by British and French troops during the Opium War of 1860. A French court rejected the legal challenge. (Bergé’s widely quoted response to the protest was that he would be happy to give the bronze heads to China if China would respect human rights and give freedom to Tibet.)

Some 690, or about 96%, of the brilliant auction’s 730 lots sold, many of them for double and triple their estimates, far beyond what they would normally be worth, with buyers taking big plunges because of the prestigious YSL-Bergé provenance. That’s a big gamble for the future, and a few buyers-many of whom decided art is preferable to banks or the stock market these days-may wake up from the auction’s intoxicating euphoria with a costly hangover.

From the beginning, the “sale of the century” was brilliantly orchestrated. The auction was the first ever held in the Grand Palais, the magnificent glass-roofed exhibition hall built for the 1900 Paris World’s Fair, and the specially-built auction room in the grand nave was packed with celebrities, art dealers, collectors, interior designers and socialites, including billionaire businessman and contemporary art collector François Pinault; former French Culture Ministers Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres and Jean-Jacques Aillagon (currently head of Versailles); decorators Jacques Grange and François-Joseph Graf; New York dealer Larry Gagosian and high-profile Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich.

The only major flop was Picasso’s 1914 Cubist Musical Instruments on a Pedestal Table, estimated at €25-€30 million ($31.7-$38 million), which failed to find a bidder. According to Le Monde, asked afterward if he was disappointed by the Picasso’s failure, an elated Bergé replied “Not at all. I’ve had an inestimable sale, and on top of it I gained a Picasso!”

Bergé has announced that proceeds from the sale, conducted by Christie’s Paris in conjunction with his own auction house Pierre Bergé & Associés, will go to a new foundation for AIDS research.

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