More millions under hammer at Saint Laurent sale

25th February 2009, Comments 0 comments

On the first day alone, the three-day auction dubbed the ‘sale of the century’ broke seven world records for contemporary artists.

PARIS -- Art dealers and museums from across the globe joined the super-rich Tuesday for day two of the record-breaking sale of Yves Saint Laurent's stunning collection, with Old Masters and Art Deco gems set to pull in millions.

Held in the spectacular glass-roofed and cast-iron vaulted Grand Palais exhibition hall, the historic auction smashed the world record for a private art sale upon opening Monday with 206 million euros (261 million dollars) worth of bids.

Barely minutes into the second day of frenzied buying by hundreds of seated bidders and through 100 telephone operators, a 17th century oil by Dutch artist Frans Hals fetched almost three times its top estimate, going for 3.1 million dollars.

A star piece on the block, an early 19th century Theodore Gericault portrait of a young brother and sister, also sold above estimate at 8 million euros.

On the first day alone, the three-day auction dubbed the "sale of the century" broke seven world records for contemporary artists.

The shine may wear off for the finale however, when a political dispute with China over the fate of prized cultural relics takes the spotlight.

Despite protests from Beijing and a legal bid to block the auction in France, two disputed 18th-century Qing dynasty bronze will go on the block late Wednesday.

Pierre Berge, Saint Laurent's companion and business partner, reiterated an offer on Monday to trade the bronzes, worth millions of dollars each, with Beijing in return for human rights.

China's termed Berge's suggestion "ridiculous" and again demanded the return of the relics, part of a collection looted 150 years ago by British and French troops from the imperial Summer Palace.

Berge, who decided to sell the pair's 50-year-long collection after the designer's death last June, told reporters after the first round of the sale that "Yves would have been very happy" over the results.

After Matisse, Mondrian and Klee, whose masterpieces all hit world records Monday, Tuesday's spotlight was on past masters, with paintings by Thomas Gainsborough, Hals and Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres.

Later in the day, Art Deco buffs were offered a lavish selection of Art Deco furniture that graced the couple's homes, including a chest and armchair by Irish designer and architect Eileen Gray that is estimated at 3 to 5 million and 2 to 3 million euros respectively.

Among other highlights are a pair of palmwood leopard-skinned benches with red lacquered bronze designed by Hungarian Gustave Miklos, estimated at up to 3 million euros.

Bidders will also be offered a vast selection of German-crafted silver and gold pieces from the 16th to the 19th century.

A crowd of well-heeled international connoisseurs in furs and eveningwear snapped up 1,200 seats at the opening round of the auction, with phone bids raining in from Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the US.

Auctioneers Christie's said 30 percent of buyers were from the US and 70 percent from Europe, with 12 percent of them French.

Top price went for a Matisse oil, Cuckoos on a blue and pink carpet, which amid a hushed silence as bids increased sold at a record for the artist of 35.9 million euros (46.5 million dollars) including fees. The sale smashed a pre-sale estimate of 18 million euros.

Works by the Dutch abstract painter Piet Mondrian, Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi and French innovator Marcel Duchamp also earned record sums, well above estimates.

By contrast, a much anticipated Pablo Picasso work Musical Instruments on a Table flopped. Bidding fell short of the 25 million euro guide price, the highest in the collection, and the piece was withdrawn unsold.

Berge told reporters he was surprised by the lack of enthusiasm for the Picasso, which he described as one of their favourite works, but insisted he was not upset.

"I am 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."

Emma Charlton/AFP/Expatica

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