What is expected to be the biggest sale of privately owned art will take place in Paris early next year when the late fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent’s collection goes up for auction. Yesterday Christie’s unveiled details of items that are expected to fetch up to $480 million.
Saint Laurent, who in the words of one dealer needed art “like water to survive”, amassed the collection over 40 years with Pierre Bergé, his long-term companion and business partner.
Bergé, who runs an auction house in Paris, said the decision to sell had been taken before his partner’s death. Saint Laurent died in Paris in June after a long battle with brain cancer.
Among several hundred items to go on sale are works by Picasso, Matisse and Mondrian, old master paintings by Géricault and Goya, as well as drawings, art deco pieces, sculptures and antique furniture. Picasso’s late Cubist work Instruments de Musique sur un Guéridon, one of several masterpieces that adorned the designer’s Parisian apartment on the rue de Babylone, is expected to fetch up to $56 million.
The superlatives unfolded as experts described the items that make up one of the most important collections to come on to the market. The selection of Renaissance sculptures was described as “an unprecedented opportunity for today’s collectors”; while the silver was “the most amazing collection seen in years”.
Bergé met Saint Laurent in the 1950s as the young designer was recovering from a nervous breakdown, having been conscripted into the French army during the Algerian war of independence. The business brains behind the partnership, Bergé helped the designer set up his fashion empire, while Saint Laurent’s love of art inspired his creations that would become worn by women all over the world.
Bergé described how his partner would insist on the highest standards as they set about buying rare works. The collection was a testimony to the pair’s mutual affection, as their two Parisian apartments were filled with the items they acquired.
Bergé said he was selling the items to “turn the page”. Only when the last object had passed under the hammer would this signify the end, he added. He drew a comparison with divorce, saying “even when these objects are gone, they won’t leave me”.
The auction will be held next February by Christie’s at the Grand Palais in Paris. The proceeds will go towards a foundation Bergé intends to set up dedicated to the fight against Aids.