Saint Laurent Auction Defies Slump to Fetch Record $262 000 000

An undated handout photo, provided to the media on Monday, Feb. 23, 2009, shows an artwork by Constantin Brancusi entitled ''Madame L.R.''

Yves Saint Laurent’s art collection set an auction record last night as collectors in Paris defied the economic slump to set new high prices for works by Matisse, Brancusi, Mondrian and Duchamp.

Christie’s International’s first evening of a three-day event fetched 206 200 000 euros ($262 000 000) with fees, the most made at auction for the sale of a private collection.

The offer of items owned by the late fashion designer and his former partner Pierre Berge comes as the proportion of lots selling at some auctions — and prices of works — have dropped. London-based Christie’s and its rival Sotheby’s have cut jobs.

“A collection with this quality of modern paintings is scarce,” said Pierre Loudmer, a Paris-based art adviser. He said he was not surprised to see high prices paid even in a recession: “Established private collectors, art foundations and new players want this kind of cake.”

Seven artists’ records were achieved, headed by the 35 900 000 euros, with fees, paid for Henri Matisse’s 1911 still life of cowslips in a vase, “Les coucous, tapis bleu et rose,” estimated at 12 000 000 euros to 18 000 000 euros.

The vibrantly-colored 2-foot, 4-inch high canvas had been bought by Saint Laurent and Berge in 1981 from the Paris dealers Galerie Tarica. The work was bought in the room by the New York- based art dealer Franck Giraud. The auction record for Matisse was previously $33 600 000, set at Christie’s New York in November 2006.

“This was a very important, very good painting,” Loudmer said in an interview.

Brancusi, Mondrian

Records for individual artists were also set when telephone buyers paid 29 200 000 euros, with fees, for Constantin Brancusi’s wooden sculpture “Madame L.R. (Portrait de Mme L.R.),” dating from 1914-17, and 21 600 000 euros for the 1922 Piet Mondrian abstract “Composition avec bleu, rouge, jaune et noir” (“Composition With Blue, Red, Yellow and Black”). Mondrian’s paintings had inspired one of Saint Laurent’s most famous dress designs during the 1960s.

The two works carried high estimates of 20 000 000 euros and 10 000 000 euros respectively.

The evening’s most spectacular performance against estimate was the 8 900 000 euros paid by another telephone bidder for a unique 1921 Marcel Duchamp “readymade” of a perfume bottle with a photograph of the artist’s female alter ego, “Rrose Selavy,” on the label, taken by fellow-surrealist, Man Ray. The 6-inch high boxed bottle, featured in many books on Duchamp, had been acquired by Saint Laurent and Berge in 1990, also from the Paris dealers Galerie Tarica, who supplied the couple with their most important acquisitions.

Duchamp Record

Before the auction, dealers said that this was the first time a major unique, rather than editioned work by Duchamp had come on the auction market in recent years. The final price quintupled the high estimate and exceeded the auction high of $1 800 000 paid in 1999 for a replica of the artist’s notorious urinal readymade.

The only significant failure of the night was Pablo Picasso’s 1914 Synthetic Cubist still life, “Instruments de musique sur un gueridon.” Even though the estimate on this somber gray 4-foot-high painting have been reduced to as little as 25 000 000 euros from the original estimate, made in September, of between 30 000 000 euros and 40 000 000 euros, it failed to attract any bids.

“It was too classic. It’s not the taste of today,” Paolo Vedovi, director of Brussels-based Galerie Vedovi, said in an interview. He commented on the other prices: “I can now phone up my clients and say there is nothing wrong with the market.”

Earlier, Vedovi was one of the underbidders on the 1892 James Ensor painting “Le desespoir de Pierrot (Pierrot le jaloux),” which fetched a record 5 000 000 euros, with fees, double the mid-estimate.

Picasso Fails

The Picasso was one of only two lots that failed to sell out of 61 works of Impressionist and modern art offered to an invited audience of 1,800 collectors and dealers in the cavernous cast-iron and glass nave of the Art Nouveau-style Grand Palais.

After the auction, Berge said he would be donating the Picasso to the Pierre Berge-Yves Saint Laurent Foundation.

Proceeds from the sale — held in collaboration with Berge’s own Paris-based auction house, Pierre Berge & Associates — will benefit the foundation and research into AIDS, he said.

The final total with fees exceeded the presale high estimate of 181 000 000 euros, based on hammer prices. The total for all three days was expected to be between 200 000 000 euros and 300 000 000 euros.

Ganz Collection

The record for a single collection at auction, from 1997, was previously $206 500 000 with fees, set with a Christie’s New York sale of modern artworks owned by the Manhattan collectors Victor and Sally Ganz.

Berge became the sole owner of the collection in 2008, following the death of Saint Laurent in June, aged 71. Earlier in the year the two of them had formed a civil union.

Saint Laurent and Berge co-founded the Yves Saint Laurent couture house in 1961. It closed in 2002, the year in which the couple’s foundation was established.

“We’ve achieved some benchmark values tonight,” said Jussi Pylkkanen, Christie’s European president. When asked why individuals were willing to spend such large amounts of money in an economic slump, Pylkkanen said: “Wealthy people feel confident about buying rare works by modern artists like Matisse, Brancusi and Mondrian. They have a measurable intrinsic value that isn’t so easy to find in other areas of the economy at the moment.”

Long Line

The pre-auction viewing of the art collection drew 35,000 visitors, said Christie’s. On Saturday, the line in front of the Grand Palais stretched nearly a kilometer long.

Among the last-minute VIP visitors to the exhibition hall, just four hours before the sale, was Russian billionaire art collector Roman Abramovich, accompanied by dealer Larry Gagosian. Christie’s owner, French billionaire Francois Pinault, was present at the sale.

The Saint Laurent estate can go ahead with the sale of two Qing Dynasty bronze sculptures on Feb. 25, a Paris court ruled yesterday, after lawyers from China argued for their return.

Published in: on February 24, 2009 at 8:17 am  Leave a Comment  
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