Page last updated at 03:45 GMT, Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Record bids for YSL private art

Members of the public take pictures of Matisse's Les Coucous, tapis bleu et rose
The Matisse broke the world record for the artist's work

An Henri Matisse artwork which sold for a record 32m euros was among bids of 206m euros (181m) for Yves Saint Laurent's private art collection.

"Cowslips on blue and pink cloth" smashed the previous record for similar work by the French painter set in 2007.

The bids were made on the opening day of the three-day auction of the collection of the late French couturier and his former partner Pierre Berge.

Auctioneers said the collection could fetch up to 300m euros (260m).

The fashion legend's collection was amassed over the course of half a century.

Picasso unsold

Another record was broken when a sculpture by the Romanian artist Constantin Brancusi was bought for 29m euros (25m), again well above the estimated price, the BBC's Paris correspondent Alasdair Sandford reports.

The item expected to fetch the highest price, Picasso's cubist work Instruments de Musique sur un Gueridon (Musical Instruments on a Table), failed to reach a minimum price.

Picture of Yves Saint Laurent behind several Bodendick table fountains
Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge began collecting art in the 1950s

The piece was expected to fetch to 30m euros (26.8m) but the highest bid was 21m euros (18m).

Earlier on Monday, a Paris court rejected China's bid to stop the sale of two 18th-Century bronze statues.

Beijing had said they were looted 150 years ago and should be in a museum.

Over the weekend, art lovers and investors queued for hours outside the Grand Palais for their only chance to see the collection of 733 items, from paintings by Picasso to ancient Egyptian sculptures, the BBC's Alasdair Sandford in Paris says.

Along the Champs Elysees, American and Chinese tourists rubbed shoulders with day-trippers from outside the capital, our correspondent says.

Potential buyers were spared the long wait, ushered in discreetly through a side door.

'Best of its type'

Inside, the display has been set up to resemble a grand apartment that could have belonged to Saint Laurent or Mr Berge.

Christie's employees hold Picasso's Instruments de Musique sur un Gueridon
The entire collection is expected to fetch up to 300m euros (260m)

Visitors ambled from the entrance hall to a large drawing room via music room and library, taking in oil paintings by Matisse and Mondrian, old masters by Gericault and Goya, art deco tables and bronze statues.

Even Saint Laurent's bed is going on sale.

The exhibition is one of the largest events that the Christie's has organised, with seating for more than 1,000 buyers, 100 telephone lines, and eight auctioneers working in shifts.

On Monday, many items were sold via telephone, it is believed by buyers based in the United States, our correspondent says.

"Every single area of the collection has got the best of its type," said Jonathan Rendell, vice-president of Christie's America.

Depressed art market

Ahead of the sale, some of the finest works were taken on tour to potential buyers in Brussels, London and New York.

Two 18th Century Chinese bronze statues
China has launched a legal bid to stop the sale of two bronze statues

Experts hope the sale will give the depressed art market a much-needed boost.

A handful of record sales have masked a barren period in the auction world, with prices tumbling and works from some renowned artists failing to find buyers at all.

There was a hiccup for the auctioneers, when the arm of an ivory statue of Jupiter became detached from its shoulder as the item was being moved into place.

Christie's said, however, that it would not be removed from sale as it was repairable.


Saint Laurent and Mr Berge began collecting art in the 1950s, at a time when the young designer was gaining a worldwide reputation with the fashion house Christian Dior.

Queues outside the Grand Palais (21 February 2009)

He needed art "like water to survive", in the words of one dealer, and acknowledged that his creations were inspired by his passion for paintings.

Yves Saint Laurent died of cancer aged 71 in June last year.

Mr Berge said the decision to sell the collection was taken because without him "it has lost the greater part of its significance".

The proceeds are to help create a new foundation for Aids research.

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