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By Culturekiosque Staff

PARIS, 24 FEBRUARY 2009 — Last night, under the glass domed roof of the Grand Palais on the Avenue Winston Churchill, a crowd of 1,200 assembled for the latest Parisian grande messe: the elaborately orchestrated and media-driven sale of the Collection of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, marketed by Christie’s in association with Pierre Bergé & Associates auctioneers. At last night’s inaugural session of a three-day auction, 59 works of Impressionist and Modern Art sold for a total of $266 million (  206 million), a world record for a private collection at auction and a record for the most valuable auction in Europe..

Seated neatly in their gilded pews, the faithful included seasoned art collectors, the usual commodity traders and speculators, the rich and famous, as well as assorted Wall Street shock-and-awe survivors and the bruised remnants of the international beau monde - mostly in town for the parties. "Ahhh, je me sens vexé, sachez-le, de ne pas avoir eu d'invitation!, " and similar remarks were heard more than once before and after the bidding as some native Parisians wondered hopelessly who all these people could possibly be. Meanwhile, Christie's staffers manned 100 phone lines for the financially discreet, those allergic to crowds and cameras and for bids placed via the Internet.

Henri Matisse: Les coucous, tapis bleu et rose, 1911
(estimate: €12 -18 million)
Photo courtesy of Christie's

The top lot of the evening was Les coucous, tapis bleu et rose (The cowslips, blue and pink carpet), a still life painted in 1911 by French artist Henri Matisse (1869-1954, which sold for $46.4 million, the highest price ever achieved for a work by the artist at auction. It sold almost at the end of a session that lasted two hours. Eight works of art sold for over €5 million. 25 works of art sold for over €1 million (24 lots for over £1 million / 25 lots over $1 million). Buyer activity at the auction (by lot / by origin) was 70% Europe and 30% Americas, and seven world records were set for artists at auction, including Matisse, Brancusi, Mondrian, De Chirico, Duchamp, Klee and Ensor.

Les coucous, tapis bleu et rose belongs to a long experimental sequence based on flowers or fruit and textiles. This particular sub-series was inspired by the Nature morte au géranium (1910), a canvas which aroused such passionate enthusiasm in Wassily Kandinsky that he persuaded the Russian collector, Sergei Shchukin, to commission two more still-lifes of the same size on the same theme that winter. In addition, the French master's Le Danseur, 1937-38, painted in Matisse’s seventieth year and one of a series of experimental collages, sold for €6.7 million /  $8.7 million (estimate: €4-6 million) and Nu au bord de la mer , 1909 sold for €8.2 million / $10.6 million (estimate: €4-6 million)

The Matisse was followed by a sculpture by Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957), Portrait of Madame LR, which sold for the second highest price of $37 million.

Constantin Brancusi: Madame L.R. (Portrait of Mme L.R.)
estimate:  €15–20 million, Photo courtesy of Christie's

Believed created between 1914 and 1917,  Portrait of Mme L.R. is an example of Brancusi's earliest sculptures in wood, which, although egnimatic is clearly of African inspiration. The sculpture presents a material, carving technique and iconography far removed from Brancusi's more typical production. Bought by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé in the 1970s, the first owner of this sculpture was the painter Fernand Léger who directly received it in exchange for a painting sometime after 1918, the year he and Brancusi met.

Piet Mondrian (1872-1944), who inspired Saint Laurent´s Fall Collection in 1965 was a star at last night´s auction, which will have two more sessions. Mondrian´s Composition avec bleu, rouge, jaune et noir (Composition with blue, red, yellow and black) reached $27.9 million which established another record.

A Mondrian-inspired dress from Yves Saint Laurent's famous 1965 collection

Painted in 1922, this work belongs to a small group of highly dynamic paintings, whose imbalance - or at least tension and instability - provides a violent contrast to the calmer works of the previous year. These represent Mondrian's first works of a genuinely Neo-Plastic style.

Piet Mondrian's Composition avec bleu, rouge, jaune et noir, 1922,
(estimate: $10-14 million
), Photo courtesy of Christie's

"Meanwhile the much heralded late Cubist Picasso Musical Instruments on a Table (1914 - 1915) estimated to sell for at least $32 million remained unsold. Bidding fell short of the €25 million price (€21 million / $26 million).

"I'm very happy because now I can keep it," Pierre Bergé said later to AFP. "Not only did this sale attain an unexpected sum, but on top of that I won a Picasso."

Picasso: Instruments de musique sur un guéridon (1914)
(estimate: $35-42 million), Photo courtesy of Christie's

Fernand Léger’s great mechanical paintings  drew significant attention: Composition, dans l’usine (1918), sold for $7,185,027. La tasse de thé , (1921), sold for $14.8 million.

Other works such as Dancers and Sphere (1936) by Alexander Calder sold for $2 million. The ready-made La Belle Haleine - Eau de Voilette (1921) by Marcel Duchamp, with the assistance by Man Ray in 1921, witnessed fierce bidding in the room and realized $11.5 million, nearly 9 times its estimate, a world auction record for the artist.

Elsewhere in the sale, James Ensor’s  Le désespoir de Pierrot (1892), the most important work of art by the artist to be presented at auction in the last 25 years, and since the very same composition was last seen at auction in the early 1980s, sold for $6.4 million, a world record for the artist at auction.  

James Ensor's Le désespoir de Pierrot, 1892
(estimate: âÂ'¬ 2-3 million)

Photo courtesy of Christie's

Three works were pre-empted by French museums (Musée d’Orsay – Centre Pompidou): Giorgio de Chirico's Il Ritornante, James Ensor's At the Conservatory and The Lilacs by Édouard Vuillard.

Proceeds from the sale, meanwhile, will be donated. Yves Saint Laurent bequeathed his half of the collection to the Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent Foundation, while Pierre Bergé will put his share toward a new foundation he’s created to fight AIDS.

55 rue de Babylone in the Seventh Arrondissement of Paris
Photo courtesy of Christie's


Lot 17
James Ensor (1860-1949)
Le désespoir de Pierrot (Pierrot le jaloux), 1892
Oil on canvas
Estimate: €2,000,000-3,000,000
Sold for: €4,993,000
World Record for Artist at Auction

Lot 35
Constantin Brancusi (1876-1857)
Madame L.R. (Portrait de Mme L.R.), circa 1914-17
Carved oak
Estimate: €15,000,000-20,000,000
Sold for: €29,185,000
World Record for Artist at AuctionAuction

Lot 37
Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968)
Belle haleine – Eau de voilette, 1921
Oval violet coloured cardboard box, brushed-glass perfume bottle
Estimate: €1,000,000-1,500,000
Sold for: €8,913,000
World Record for Artist at Auction


Lot 42
Piet Mondrian (1872-1944)
Composition avec bleu, rouge, jaune et noir, 1922
Oil on canvas
Estimate: €7,000,000-10,000,000
Sold for: €21,569,000
World Record for Artist at Auction

Lot 55
Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
Les coucous, tapis bleu et rose, 1911
Oil on canvas
Estimate: €12,000,000-18,000,000
Sold for: €35,905,000
World Record for Artist at Auction

Lot 57
Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978)
Il Ritornante, 1918
Oil on canvas
Estimate: €7,000,000-10,000,000
Sold for: €11,041,000
World Record for Artist at Auction

Lot 61
Paul Klee (1879-1940)
Gartenfigur, 1932
Oil on canvas
Estimate: €600,000-900,000
Sold for: €3,985,000
World Record for Artist at Auction

The Sale of the Collection of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé

Tuesday 24 February 2pm: Old Master and 19th Century Paintings and Drawings

Tuesday 24 February 3pm: Silver, Miniatures and Objets de Vertu

Tuesday 24 February 6pm: 20th Century Decorative Arts

Wednesday 25 February 1pm: Sculptures and Works of Art

Wednesday 25 February 7pm: Asian Art, Ceramics, Furniture, Islamic Art and Antiquities

Calendar Tip: chosen by the editors as being of interest to Culturekiosque readers and travellers.

San Francisco

Forty-year Retrospective of the Work of Yves Saint Laurent
Through 5 April 2009
de Young Museum
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive
San Francisco, CA
Tel: (1) 415 863 33 30

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Parisian Women, How Do They Do It?

Paris 1962: Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Dior, The Early Collections

Jeff Koon's Hanging Heart Sets Record at Auction

The Warhol Economy

Tips for Evening Dress

Book Review: Matisse the Master : A Life of Henri Matisse: The Conquest of Colour: 1909-1954 by Hilary Spurling (Knopf)

Exhibition Review: Matisse - Picasso

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