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Last Updated:  Monday, 7 April, 2003, 21:44 GMT 22:44 UK
Surrealist's treasures for sale
Andre Breton, photo by Felix Bonnet
There is much debate over whether Breton's unique collection should be dispersed
An auction billed as the French capital's arts sale of the year has begun, amid protests over the break-up of the vast collection.

More than 5,500 articles owned by Surrealist poet Andre Breton are being sold.

They are expected to bring in between 30 and 40 million euros ($32m-$43m).

But leading French intellectuals - including philosopher Jacques Derrida - have protested against the dismantling of collection, which has been housed at the Parisian flat where he lived until his death in 1966.

A handful of protesters briefly tried to block one of the entrances to the Hotel Drouot in central Paris, where the auction is being held, before the start of the sale.

The Breton collection includes hundreds of random objects

They distributed fake 10-euro notes featuring Breton which read: "Your money stinks of the corpse of the poet that you never dared to become."

They then took their protest into the auction house and drowned out the auctioneer's voice when the first items on sale went under the hammer.

"You are murdering the poet," one shouted, while another urged visitors not to buy anything.

The first day of the sale, due to last until 17 April, was devoted to the auction of Breton's books.

The 240 lots up for auction on Monday sold for a total of close to one million euros - some 40% above estimates, organisers said.

The French Government, which had pledged to step in to prevent key pieces from leaving the country, bought 17 lots to be distributed to museums and libraries around the country.

The public has for the past week been able to view the collection at the Hotel Drouot.

It includes paintings by Joan Miro, Rene Magritte, Salvador Dali and Yves Tanguy - some with an estimated value of a million euros.

An archive of photographs is regarded by experts as the most valuable single record of the history of the Surrealist movement.


Breton left behind a strange assortment of Western art, primitive artefacts, photos, manuscripts, letters and everyday items.

His Paris flat, at 42, rue Fontaine in the Pigalle red-light district, had until now been preserved as it was when he died.

However, Breton's family has decided to sell the contents, after failing for years to persuade the French Government to turn the flat into a permanent museum.

Many art lovers see the apartment as a shrine and believe the collection should remain intact.

"In France, no-one will put forward a penny for a museum to Andre Breton... All we can do is express our disgust, our revolt and our deep pain," says a message on a website created by opponents of the sale.

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